BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) is in the news again, this time because of a legal dispute with Typo Products LLC, a company part-owned by TV personality Ryan Seacrest.
Typo sold a keyboard product that could be attached to the iPhone 5 and 5S. BlackBerry sued, claiming the product infringed on some of its patents. The courts agreed, even ordering Typo to pay $860,000 to BlackBerry back in February.
Fast forward to today, and the two parties have settled their differences. As part of their agreement, Typo will not sell a keyboard for any mobile device with a screen size of less than 7.9 inches. To put that in perspective, even the iPhone 6 Plus has a screen size of only 5.5 inches. So, this is a clear win for BlackBerry.
This brings up some interesting questions. Just how valuable are BlackBerry’s patents? Could they make the difference as the company tries to turn around? And most importantly, how should you view them as an investor?
A treasure trove of patents
BlackBerry’s intellectual property portfolio consists of roughly 44,000 patents, and is valued at US$1.2 billion on the balance sheet. In reality, it’s probably worth a lot more. Quite likely, BlackBerry’s most valuable patents are related to mobile security, something that’s become critically important in recent years.
These patents could be especially valuable to an acquirer, and history supports this case. Patent portfolios were a prime motivation in Google’s purchase of Motorola, and Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. Even today, Apple and Samsung continue to battle each other in the courts.
If BlackBerry’s patent portfolio can tip the scales in the global smartphone wars, then it could conceivably be worth more than the entire company.
Let’s not get carried away here. BlackBerry’s portfolio may be valuable, but there are some big concerns.
First of all, BlackBerry’s patents likely aren’t worth much to the company itself. They certainly haven’t prevented Apple and Google from creating more popular product lines, and haven’t prevented BlackBerry’s revenue from plummeting. So, until these patents are sold, this will likely be a story of what could be.
Secondly, BlackBerry may have already licensed many of its patents, which allows other companies to use its technology. In cases where a patent contributes to an industry standard, BlackBerry is required to license this patent at a fair and reasonable rate.
How should you look at this?
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say just how valuable BlackBerry’s patents are. But there’s one thing we can be reasonably sure of: these patents would be worth more in another company’s hands.
For this reason, BlackBerry remains a prime takeover target, and this will not change, even if sales continue to disappoint. If you’re patient and willing to ride out a few bad quarters, BlackBerry stock holds a lot of promise.
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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.
Fool contributor Benjamin Sinclair has no position in any stocks mentioned. David Gardner owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Tom Gardner owns shares of Google (A shares) and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares).