Asian firms eye RIM platform

CIOL Bureau
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TORONTO/SEOUL: Research In Motion is not on Samsung Electronics Co's immediate shopping list, but the ailing Blackberry maker may still be attractive to Asian smartphone makers looking to compete against Google's Android, the world's fastest growing mobile platform.


Samsung said on Wednesday it has no interest in buying RIM or licensing its operating system, refuting a tech blog report that Canada-based RIM was looking to sell itself to the South Korean technology giant.

Shares of RIM, which has long been the subject of takeover speculation with its stock valuation lingering at multi-year lows, jumped more than 10 per cent on the blog report, but fell back after Samsung's denial.

Product delays and profit warnings have eroded confidence in RIM, once at the cutting edge of smartphone technology for business users, and its management.


But RIM, still valued at above $9 billion, may hold enough allure to interest Asian vendors like LG Electronics Inc, HTC and ZTE, which don't have their own platform, said a source at a major Asian handset maker.

"As we don't have our own platform, it's (RIM) an attractive option to look into and we're flexible about anything," said the source, who has direct knowledge of the matter, but who declined to be named as he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Samsung has its own platform called bada and is seeking to boost its presence by merging it with a platform backed by chipmaker Intel.


"We haven't considered acquiring the firm and are not interested in (buying RIM)," said Samsung spokesman James Chung, adding that Samsung had not been approached by the Canadian firm for a takeover and was not interested in licensing RIM's mobile platform.

The Boy Genius Report website cited an unidentified source as saying RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie was meeting with companies interested in either licensing its software or buying a part or all of RIM, with Samsung leading the pack.

After Samsung's denial, Nasdaq-listed RIM shares tumbled 5.3 per cent to $16.55 in extended trading, after closing up 8 per cent at a 6-week high of $17.47. The stock rose as much as 11.1 per cent.


Licensing deal?

Samsung may not be interested in buying RIM outright, but some analysts say that adding BlackBerry software may be a good fit with its strategy of bolstering software capability and adding corporate subscribers.

"We see RIM licensing BlackBerry 10 and charging $10 per device," Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said in a note, referring to RIM's operating system.


"Samsung and HTC would do this to gain access to RIM's subscriber base, diversify away from sole dependence on Android and create more enterprise exposure. BlackBerry 10 is effectively an Android derivative and, therefore, many bridges are possible."

Samsung has traditionally focused on growing its business from within and has no track record of major deals in recent years. In 2008, it withdrew a $5.9 billion unsolicited bid for flash memory card maker SanDisk due to the U.S. firm's deepening losses and uncertain outlook.

But it has since become more flexible on M&A as the hardware-focused firm seeks to boost its software capabilities to counter Apple and Google.


"It'd be helpful for Samsung or HTC to license BlackBerry OS so they can gain access to the corporate space," said Vincent Chen, an analyst at Yuanta Securities.

Shares in Samsung slid 1.1 per cent in Seoul on Wednesday, underperforming the main KOSPI share index, which slipped 0.3 per cent.

Jefferies' Misek said RIM could announce a deal within three months, and the appointment of a new chairperson could speed up the process. A spokesman for RIM declined to comment on the blog report.


Balsillie and fellow co-CEO Mike Lazaridis also share a role as board chairman, but, after pressure from investors, a committee made up of the rest of RIM's board is due to report this month on possible changes to the unusual structure.

RIM already turned down takeover overtures from Inc and other potential buyers because it prefers to fix its problems on its own, people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters recently.

RIM's shares have jumped nearly 40 per cent since December 21, when Reuters reported such interest, but the stock is still down almost 75 per cent from a year ago.