Blackberry patents going once, going twice

If you told anyone in 2008 that by this year, Blackberry would be selling patents for extra cash, they would have patted their phone holder and told you there was no freakin’ way. 

What happened: BlackBerry’s deal to sell 37,175 of its patents fell apart after the buyer came up US$90M short of the $600M agreed-upon payment, per The Globe and Mail. 

Why it matters: BlackBerry has made a killing off suing companies for patent infringement and licensing its own patented technology, so this delay has dealt a massive financial blow. 

Catch up: The deal had been in the works since 2020 and passed federal review last March, but Blackberry started to explore other options as Catapult stalled on payment. 

  • As Catapult struggled to come up with the funds, a Toronto-based financier responsible for much of the secured payment dipped, jeopardizing the deal further.

Zoom out: Over half of the granted patents are set to expire by 2027, meaning the shelf life of BlackBerry’s massive portfolio of technology inventions is also dropping by the day. 

  • When a patent expires, the public, and competitors, gain the right to make, use and sell the invention covered by the patent without permission from the patent owner. 
  • But it’s not so clear cut: There are ways to extend patent protections by patenting new innovations or product versions or filing never-expiring trademark protections. 

What’s next: BlackBerry would explore selling to any buyer at this point, but a new deal would take months—time the company doesn’t have as licensing revenue continues to fall.

A patent expert told The Globe and Mail’s Sean Silcoff that costs, including maintenance and legal fees for an “expiring portfolio,” mean “the return on investment will be an uphill battle.”