BlackBerry's patents could generate a bidding war

The BlackBerry Q5

BlackBerry's patent portfolio is estimated to be worth between $2 - $3 billion, but a bidding war between technology giants could generate even more cash.

The Canadian smartphone maker has 5,236 active US patents and 3,730 active applications relating to wireless communications. After struggling to bounce back with its BlackBerry 10 operating system, the firm is considering licensing out its technology as well as mulling over a potential sale of assets.

Chris Marlett, CEO of MDB Capital Group, an IP-focused investment bank estimated that BlackBerry's patents are worth up to $3 billion to a sole purchaser. However, they have the potential to generate as much as $5 billion if a bidding war is triggered.

Microsoft could justify paying $4 billion to $5 billion for the business, and $4 billion to $5 billion for the IP.

"If (there's) a bidding war, I think the number can go as high as $4 billion to $5 billion," Marlett told AllThingsD.

"This is probably the last big and current [wireless] portfolio available. I don't expect any other wireless-focused portfolio this big will come up for sale again anytime soon, so there will be intense interest in this portfolio."

Nortel was the last major firm to sell off patents in 2011. The firm ended up auctioning off 4,000 patents to the Rockstar Bidco consortium, which was made up of Apple, BlackBerry, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft and Sony. The sale generated $4.5 billion, which is close to the figure Marlett is estimating for BlackBerry's IP.

If BlackBerry does put itself up for sale, potential buyers include the usual suspects - Apple, Google and Samsung. These firms all dominate the mobile market and are always looking for ways to boost their wireless communication portfolios.

Microsoft and Lenovo have also been tipped to make a move for the patents.

According to Marlett, Microsoft would be interested because BlackBerry has traditionally been strong in the enterprise.

"Someone like Microsoft could justify paying $4 billion to $5 billion for the business, and $4 billion to $5 billion for the IP, which would yield an $8 billion to $10 billion purchase price," he said.

However, given that Microsoft is pushing its own Windows Phone platform and already has close ties with Nokia, an outright purchase may be a longshot.

Lenovo, which is now the world's largest PC maker, is also touted as a potential buyer. The firm reported that sales of tablets and smartphones had overtaken PCs for the first time in Q1, and it is looking to invest in the mobile market.

The Chinese firm was linked with potential partnership with BlackBerry in January. After the news that BlackBerry could put itself up for sale, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing was questioned about whether the PC maker would be interested.

"I cannot comment on any specific target or deal. We believe that the PC industry and the mobile phone industry will continue to consolidate. So Lenovo is definitely in a good position to become an important player," Yaunqing told the Wall Street Journal.

"If a target or deal is consistent with Lenovo's strategy, we would take the opportunity."

However, not everyone is convinced BlackBerry's assets will generate interest. Francisco Jeronimo, research director for wireless and mobile communications at analyst firm IDC, remains unconvinced that tech companies will be clambering over each other to buy BlackBerry.

"Will anyone be interested in BlackBerry when they've probably unsuccessfully explored that option? BlackBerry's statement shows lack of interest in the company. If there was any they would be announcing a partnership/acquisition not a sale," he said.

"Remember what Nokia did? Secretly negotiated a strategic option with Microsoft & publicly announced a partnership. BlackBerry did the opposite."

Khidr Suleman is the Technical Editor at IT Pro, a role he has fulfilled since March 2012. He is responsible for the reviews section on the site  - so get in touch if you have a product you think might be of interest to the business world. He also covers the hardware and operating systems beats. Prior to joining IT Pro, Khidr worked as a reporter at Incisive Media. He studied law at the University of Reading and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism and Online Writing at PMA Training.