The company that makes the ubiquitous handheld device used by many lawyers and staffers, BlackBerry Ltd., has turned to its longtime outside counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Canadian firm Torys to help explore its strategic options.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based telecommunications and wireless equipment company announced Monday that its board of directors has formed a special committee to examine alternatives that include "possible joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances, a sale of the company or other possible transactions."
BlackBerry, which officially adopted the name of its best-known product in July by scrapping its old moniker Research in Motion, saw its ex-billionaire cofounder and former CEO James Balsillie sell all of his remaining shares in the company in February.
As with other former technology giants adjusting to a new age—such as AOL, Dell, Motorola and Palm—BlackBerry has struggled with slipping profits and the first quarterly drop last December in subscription numbers in its history. An embarrassing BlackBerry service interruption in late 2011 caused by a computer glitch led some large law firms to begin shifting their technology plans to competitors like Apple's iPhone and Google's Android.
Don Jaycox, DLA Piper's chief information officer for the Americas, told Law Technology News last year, a Law Journal affiliate, that about 80 percent of the roughly 3,500 smartphone users under his purview had BlackBerry devices. But he anticipated moving that number closer to a 50/50 split this year with other touchscreen products like the iPhone. Jaycox said the switchover did indeed come to fruition, as his firm is now "pretty close to a 50/50 mix."
BlackBerry got a bit of a boost earlier this year when other large firms like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Clifford Chance bought 500 and 1,600 of BlackBerry's new Z10 models, respectively, for their employees. But despite relatively good reviews for the Z10, BlackBerry dropped the price of the device in July in an effort to increase sales.
Since it appears the success of the Z10 won't save BlackBerry, the company has begun preparing for a future that could see it absorbed into an acquirer, such as China's Lenovo, which Reuters reported earlier this year saw the Canadian company as a potential takeover target. Of course, a sale would not only affect shareholders, but also BlackBerry's industrial home in Ontario, which could suffer from further layoffs at the company in the event any new parent relocated production facilities elsewhere, according to CNNMoney.
BlackBerry has been a longtime client of Skadden, which earlier this year helped the company defeat a securities class action and fend off claims that it misled investors, according to reports by affiliate publication The Litigation Daily. Skadden also advised BlackBerry—then known as Research in Motion—on its $200 million acquisition in 2010 of QNS Software Systems, a deal that was supposed to help the acquirer update its operating system.
BlackBerry has always had an interesting legal history. Back in 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in a patent case between Research in Motion and a Virginia-based company called NTP Inc., which claimed the BlackBerry maker was infringing on its patents.
NTP eventually reached a $612.5 million settlement with Research in Motion, a deal that prevented a halt in BlackBerry sales and sent a whopping $200 million into the coffers of NTP's lawyers from Wiley Rein, which had taken the case on contingency. (Jones Day and now-defunct Howrey represented BlackBerry in the litigation.)
In recent years, BlackBerry's IP issues have continued. Kirkland & Ellis and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr helped the company defeat on appeal a $147.2 million judgment in favor of Mformation Technologies, according to an August 2012 report by The Litigation Daily. The litigation saw BlackBerry sue Mformation's lawyers from Foley & Lardner for defamation last year in an Ontario court.
BlackBerry's in-house legal chief since July 2012 has been Steven Zipperstein, who replaced retiring predecessor Karima Bawa as chief legal officer amid a spate of executive-level departures from the company last year.
Bloomberg reported in June that the 54-year-old Zipperstein, a former general counsel of Verizon Wireless who was lured out of retirement to join BlackBerry, was finding himself increasingly busy dealing with angry investors and ongoing patent disputes bedeviling the electronics maker.
@|Brian Baxter, a reporter at The Am Law Daily, an affiliate, can be contacted at email@example.com.