The demise of BlackBerry’s smartphone business has now reached a new low point. The corporation revealed today that its coveted patent portfolio will be sold for $600 million. “Catapult IP Innovations Inc.,” a new firm described by BlackBerry as “a special purpose entity formed to acquire the BlackBerry intellectual assets,” is the buyer.
The patents are for “mobile devices, messaging, and wireless networking,” according to BlackBerry. These are BlackBerry’s patents for phones, QWERTY keyboards, and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). In 2018, BlackBerry used these patents against Facebook Messenger (which included features like muting a message thread and showing notifications as a numeric icon badge).
BlackBerry, a veteran of the original smartphone patent wars, was no stranger to this. In the early 2000s, when BlackBerry was still known as RIM, it went after startups like Handspring and Good Technology.
If the term “Catapult IP Innovations” didn’t give it away, the most obvious effect of this transaction is the weaponization of BlackBerry patents. Catapult’s funding for the $600 million deal is only a $450 million loan, according to the news release, which will be provided to BlackBerry in cash right now. The remaining $150 million is a promissory note with a three-year payoff period. Catapult is now a brand new firm with a lot of debt, no goods, and no cash flow. Catapult needs to start monetizing BlackBerry’s patents in some way, which presumably means suing everyone it believes is infringing on its newly acquired assets, assuming the strategy isn’t to go bankrupt right away.
Before the iPhone upended the entire business in 2007, BlackBerry, along with Windows Mobile and Nokia, was one of the major players in mobile. BlackBerry didn’t completely overhaul its OS until 2013, with the touch-focused BlackBerry 10 OS, but it was far too late by then. When the BlackBerry Priv, the company’s first Android phone, was released in 2015, the business abandoned BlackBerry OS development. BlackBerry also stopped developing phone hardware the next year, when it exited the smartphone business entirely. At the start of 2022, the remaining hardcore BlackBerry OS users lost access to BlackBerry’s servers.
This ushers in the age of “Zombie BlackBerry,” in which the long-dead phone company leases its name to various third parties in an attempt to resurrect its glory days. TCL was the first, selling “BlackBerry” hardware QWERTY phones as well as blatantly rebranded slab phones. TCL maintained to this strategy from 2016 to 2020, when it declined to renew the licensing agreement. Later that year, a firm called “OnwardMobility” purchased the BlackBerry brand and planned to release a phone in 2021, however the launch was pushed back until the next year. BlackBerry’s major businesses today are automotive infotainment and enterprise security, with its QNX operating system being a popular choice among automakers.