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BlackBerry forms business unit to hold patent portfolio, innovative tech assets

WATERLOO, Ont. - BlackBerry Ltd. (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSX:BB) has created a new business unit that will combine some of its most innovative technology and patent portfolio as the company focuses away from handheld devices.

The unit, to be called BlackBerry Technology Solutions, will be headed by Sandeep Chennakeshu, the former president of Ericsson Mobile Platforms and former chief technology officer of Sony-Ericsson.

"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 John Chen, BlackBerry's executive chairman and chief executive officer.

Under Chen, BlackBerry has stripped out much of its consumer-oriented businesses, sold real estate and laid off employees.

He told employees earlier this month that the Waterloo, Ont.-based company — best known for its smartphones and email services — had completed its downsizing phase and was ready to make acquisitions and do some "modest" hiring in certain areas of the business, such as product development and sales.

Independent technology analyst Carmi Levy said the new unit reinforces the fact that Blackberry's days primarily as a handset vendor are behind it as it moves "very aggressively" toward a different business.

"This is probably the most tangible evidence yet of the company's transition into something very different than it was even a year or two ago," Levy said.

"It suggests they are no longer as dependent on handset-based revenue as they once were and as a result they have both the financial foundation as well as the corporate organizational confidence to more concretely move away from those lines of businesses into areas that are largely based on its intellectual property."

He said the move was positive for Blackberry, noting that it has struggled with its product launches and faced stiff competition from other smartphone makers while it has received little credit for its range of capabilities, especially when it came to software.

"It's fair to say that much of the company's transition over the last couple of years has been judged based on criteria that don't reflect the full breath of the business," he said.

"It is not simply a company that makes smartphones, it is a company that has a rich legacy of creating and marketing intellectual property."

Chennakeshu, who has 73 patents to his name, has 25 years of experience in research, product development, and intellectual property licensing in the wireless, electronics and semiconductor industries.

The unit he'll head includes QNX, the company that BlackBerry acquired and used to develop the operating system that became the platform for its new smartphones, and Certicom, a former independent Toronto-area company with advanced security software.

BTS will also include BlackBerry's Project Ion, which is an application platform focused on machine-to-machine Internet technology, Paratek antenna tuning technology and about 44,000 patents.

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