TORONTO – A major deadline in the battle for BlackBerry’s future is set for Monday, and will likely reveal how many outsiders want — or can afford to — get their hands on the Canadian smartphone maker.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company has been trying to drum up interest in its assets for weeks, but only a few serious investors are expected to emerge, with the most likely candidates including both the founders of the company and its biggest stakeholder.
“We are finally going to know who will, or who won’t, be bidding on this company,” said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst.
“It’s really a fish-or-cut-bait day.”
After a month and a half of near silence, it appears that any possible bidding war for BlackBerry’s businesses, which include smartphone hardware, enterprise assets and a patent portfolio, will only involve a few interested parties.
And some of the most vocal investors may be shut out of the process, according to one report.
Bloomberg said that Fairfax Financial (TSX:FFX) has yet to secure all of the financing it needs to make its $4.7-billion bid official. While some lenders have committed to the Fairfax plan, not enough have agreed to help finance the offer, which could make it impossible for Fairfax to move ahead.
In September, Fairfax jumpstarted the pursuit of BlackBerry’s assets with a highly conditional letter of intent that set the bar for a starting bid price at $9 per share, with a consortium of other investors that it hasn’t named. The announcement opened the field so that the smartphone maker could shop around for other potential buyers.
Fairfax, which owns about 10 per cent of BlackBerry common shares, constructed the agreement so that it could step away if it deems the transaction unattractive or financially benefit from a takeover by any other party.
The deadline Fairfax set for itself could also prove flexible, as the firm said it was “expected” to wrap up its review of BlackBerry’s finances then. However, other bidders could emerge after the deadline and, if successful, fork out more money to Fairfax to sever the arrangement.
Meanwhile the founders of BlackBerry, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, have been trying to pound out a separate bid that would ensure the company stays in one piece. Their offer would be made through a partnership with New York investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP and cellphone chip maker Qualcomm Inc., according to a source familiar with the process.
Chinese personal computer maker Lenovo has also suggested it could enter the process with its own bid, which could trigger national security concerns from the federal government, which would review any foreign takeover offer.
While media reports have said Lenovo chief executive Yang Yuanqing expressed interest in beefing up the company’s presence into the smartphone business, the technology company would find BlackBerry’s patents and encryption technology most beneficial to its business.
BlackBerry has run into numerous challenges over its encryption technology. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia pushed to ban some of the device’s services because governments can’t monitor content as it passes through the system.
Their concerns centre around national security, since traffic over BlackBerry’s instant message service is extremely difficult to intercept and monitor.
Last month, BlackBerry executives scoured the market for other interested buyers, which a Wall Street Journal report said included a recent trip to the Facebook offices in California to court the social media company.
While some analysts have questioned how much steam is left in BlackBerry, the company still has a slate of assets that are considered valuable, including its massive patent portfolio. BlackBerry owns about 10,000 patents that cover advanced wireless technology, security, enterprise mobility and software.
Some of those prized patents are part of Rockstar, a group of investors that includes Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, Ericsson and Sony. Together they spent $4.5 billion to buy them from Nortel during its bankruptcy auction.
Last week, those patents were the centre of infringement lawsuits filed by Rockstar against a slate of other technology companies, including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, HTC Corp, Huawei and Google.
“People are saying BlackBerry’s patents haven’t been tested, haven’t been validated … and they’re worthless,” said Kris Thompson, an analyst at National Bank.
“I don’t know if that’s the case,” he added, pointing to the lawsuit.
While attention remains on the pursuit of BlackBerry, for Canadians weary of purchasing another device from the smartphone maker shouldn’t feel discouraged, said Levy.
“If BlackBerry technology continues to meet your needs, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy it out of fear of the company’s future,” he said.
The smartphones will likely to receive new software updates for quite some time, regardless of the auction’s outcome, and the phone and browsing features will continue to work, Levy said.
“Your phone won’t go dark,” he added.
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