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BlackBerry sets up patents and software unit

Hires former Sony Ericsson CTO to run BlackBerry Technology Solutions, housing QNX, Project Ion and 44,000 patents

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 18 August, 2014

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There was some improvement in BlackBerry's device shipments in the second quarter, but hardly enough to count as a turnaround, so the company is still focusing on building up alternative revenue streams. Its latest move is to create a new unit, BlackBerry Technology Solutions, which will house its 44,000 patents and several software projects.

The new division is reminiscent of another fallen handset star's recent restructuring. Nokia - whose decision to offload its cellphones altogether should be an inspiration for BlackBerry - is also investing in a new technology unit which will combine patent licensing and new software and R&D projects. For both companies, the hope will be to monetize their considerable IPR stores more effectively, while generating new inventions that could maintain that patents base, and even create new product directions for the future.


BlackBerry's latest unit will be headed by Sandeep Chennakeshu, a 25-year veteran of the wireless industry who is named on 73 patents himself and was previously president of Ericsson Mobile Platforms, and CTO of Sony Ericsson. He starts with immediate effect as president of BlackBerry Technology Solutions. Among BTS's crown jewels will be the QNX embedded software, originally acquired to power BlackBerry's new operating system, but with its real potential lying in the connected car market where it has its roots.

QNX could help BlackBerry create a viable business in the internet of things, where there is a more open playing field than in smartphones, and this is likely to be Chennakeshu's top priority. Other assets he will have to play with include an IoT applications platform called Project Ion along with projects in cryptography and antenna tuning, and the Certicom and Paratek acquisitions.

"Combining all these assets into a single business unit led by Sandeep will create operational synergies and new revenue streams, furthering our turnaround strategy," said CEO John Chen in a statement.

Meanwhile, Chen's recent restructuring efforts appear to be stabilizing the core business, at least. Earlier this month, Reuters reported an internal memo from Chen, which said the company had largely finished with job cuts and would start recruiting again.

And according to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry smartphones rose by 15% in Q2, compared to the first quarter, the first sequential gain for a year. The company shifted 1.5m units, compared to 1.3m in the prior quarter, though this only represents a market share of 0.5%. It has not increased its share for five years - even increases in shipments have never outpaced overall market growth.

Despite the shift of focus away from hardware to enterprise software and the IoT, Chen has refused to give up on devices altogether, and he may even hope to add a percentage point or two to BlackBerry's market share figure with the release of two new models later this year - the innovatively designed Passport and the Classic, a successor to the Bold, both products targeted firmly at business users.

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