How does that old song go? Everything old is new again? I'm reminded of it every time Samsung and BlackBerry get wrapped up in some will-they-won't-they acquisition intrigue like they did on Wednesday. In case you somehow missed all the fun, Reuters reported that Samsung offered a cool $7.5 billion to BlackBerry as part of a potential buyout deal. In the hours that followed, BlackBerry balked, Samsung shot the notion down and investor hope -- seen in the form of surging BBRY stock prices -- all but evaporated.
Samsung and BlackBerry have an interesting history together, at least as far as rumored business tie-ups go. In very early 2012, a poorly sourced acquisition report from a tech blog caused BlackBerry (well, RIM at the time) shares to surge in price. Samsung denied it was looking for a deal. Then, later that year, Jeffries analyst Peter Misek released a note to investors fingering Samsung as the company most likely or most interested in licensing BlackBerry 10 for its own phones. Considering how fervently Samsung's been trying to make its alternative Tizen platform a thing, that scenario doesn't seem all that outlandish. So what's different this time around? Why would Samsung want to envelop BlackBerry in its many folds? Well, a bunch of reasons, really.
First up, there's the patent angle. The folks in Waterloo have nearly 44,000 patents tucked away in BlackBerry's global coffers (about 10 percent were granted in the US), including a set of recently awarded ones that protect concepts like a wearable that lets users access their phones without punching in a code first. Fine, that one in particular is hardly intriguing, but make no mistake: BlackBerry has some really juicy ones. Law360 did a deep dive back in 2013 and found that of the lot of them, 2,500 BlackBerry patents pertaining to "Security, Email, Messaging [and] Data Delivery" provide the backbone for the company's standout security and networking features.
Those patents -- and their analogs filed in different countries to afford BlackBerry global intellectual protection -- are worth a small fortune alone. Still others pertaining specifically to information encryption (mostly owned by a BlackBerry subsidiary called Certicom) are being licensed for use by the United States government because the elliptic-curve cryptography techniques they outline are just that good. What happens when other security-minded organizations bite the bullet and decide they need to use that tech too? They pay up, big. Cha-ching for BlackBerry, and that revenue stream could be Samsung's too.
And hell, let's just get really pragmatic here. Remember Nortel? We can't blame you if you don't, but the former communications juggernaut sold off over 6,000 of its patents and patent applications in mid-2011 in exchange for around $4.5 billion. Even if all Samsung wanted to do was flip BlackBerry's huge store of intellectual property, it'd still have a somewhat decent chance of turning a profit. Oh, and that's not to mention the extra ammunition that IP would provide if/when Samsung gets wrapped up in another giant legal kerfuffle like it did with Apple. Patents are power, protection and profit all rolled into one.
But let's take the legal nitty-gritty of patents out of the mix for just a moment. Despite a shift to alternative devices and platforms, BlackBerry's phones and services are still being used by businesses, conglomerates and governments the world over. That's a level of enterprise savvy and infiltration that Samsung hasn't yet been able to match, even with its Knox security initiative on the books and some promising momentum -- why, just last year the NSA gave Knox its blessing for governmental use... after a handful of security researchers managed to poke disputable holes in the fabric of Samsung's security. If Samsung wants to truly own the enterprise space, picking off one of its most notable (and most vulnerable) competitors is a great way to do it.
And hey, it's not like BlackBerry has a huge hand in making phones now anyway; its deal with Foxconn allows the company to essentially offload not just the manufacturing, but also the distribution of future BlackBerrys straight to the Chinese company. Design work is still done in-house, but Samsung could easily take over those teams and keep a quiet stream of new BlackBerrys flowing if it wanted to.
So yes, there are a few perfectly plausible reasons why Samsung would (and arguably should) snap up BlackBerry. But why now? It's all about the shifting market, friends. The Samsung we have now isn't exactly the same, old "let's throw everything at the wall and see if it sticks" company we're so used to watching. It's not selling as many of its flagship phones as it thought it would, and you can't really deny that those devices have been a big driver of growth for Samsung these past few years. In order to please all those finicky shareholders, Samsung's got to keep the gravy train going, and when growth in one direction slows, you'd better believe the company will try to find a catalyst to make sure things move.
On the flip side, BlackBerry's starting to dust itself off a bit now that former Sybase chief John Chen is sitting at the head table. It's cutting costs. It's retuning to the company's mission. It's pushing ever closer to profitability. Hell, it just might get there (Chen says it'll happen sometime in 2016), and by then, it'll be that much more expensive a target for anyone looking to buy. By kicking off these talks now, Samsung just might be trying to buy low.
Even now, some might balk at the price Samsung reportedly offered -- after all, the deal involved paying a hefty premium on each of BlackBerry's shares. And BlackBerry's reported $7.5 billion price tag stands in stark contrast to the relatively paltry $200-ish million Samsung paid for SmartThings, an originally crowdfunded hardware company that the Korean titan gobbled up not too long ago. Here's the thing about the Internet of Things market: It's young. It hasn't solidified yet. There's no clear market winner. You can think of Samsung's $200 million as a ground-floor investment. But BlackBerry? That's a company with rebounding clout, and one of the most ardent, devoted and possibly craziest fan bases you'll ever see. Alas, both companies have buttoned up on the matter, so we might not ever know what they saw in each other. One thing's for sure, though: This isn't the last time you'll hear these rumors. Everything old is new again.