WSJ: China's Lenovo eyes BlackBerry, signs secrecy deal

Oct. 18, 2013 at 3:00 AM
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WATERLOO, Ontario, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Chinese PC and smartphone giant Lenovo Group Ltd. has signed a non-disclosure deal to pursue possibly buying BlackBerry Ltd., The Wall Street Journal reported.

The agreement lets the Beijing company -- which bought IBM Corp.'s PC business for $1.25 billion a decade ago -- examine the books of the struggling Canadian smartphone maker, the newspaper said. It also lets Lenovo, whose executive headquarters is in Morrisville, N.C., near Raleigh, review other confidential and proprietary information.

Lenovo, the No. 1 PC vendor and No. 4 smartphone maker, had no comment on the report.

BlackBerry said, "We do not intend to disclose further developments with respect to the process until we approve a specific transaction or otherwise conclude the review of strategic alternatives."

Lenovo -- which also sells tablet computers, smart televisions, workstations, servers and electronic storage devices -- would be one of several possible BlackBerry bidders to emerge since the Waterloo, Ontario, company said in August it would examine its options, including a sale, joint ventures and strategic partnerships.

BlackBerry, ceding market share to rivals including Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., last month reported a nearly $1 billion quarterly loss and said it would slash 40 percent of its workforce.

Other companies considering acquiring BlackBerry include Cerberus Capital Management LP and BlackBerry co-founders Mike Lazaridis and and Douglas Fregin.

In addition, technology giants, including Google Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and German software company SAP AG, are reported eyeing BlackBerry or parts of the business or its assets, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail has said.

The potential buyers have all declined to comment.

BlackBerry already has a preliminary $4.7 billion buyout deal with Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., a Canadian insurance firm that is one of BlackBerry's largest shareholders.

Lenovo's smartphone sales growth jumped 130.6 percent in the second quarter this year from the same period a year earlier, the highest of any top-5 vendor, International Data Corp. reported.

It shipped 11.3 million devices in the quarter for an estimated 4.7 percent market share, the U.S. market research, analysis and advisory firm said.

Buying BlackBerry, which has just over 2 percent of the market, would add scale to Lenovo's IdeaPhone operations, with Lenovo possibly bundling BlackBerry with its PC offerings, the Journal said.

This could help Lenovo, with 17.3 percent of the PC market, pull further ahead of Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Forbes said.

A Lenovo-BlackBerry deal would face government scrutiny in both Canada and the United States, the Journal said.

The Investment Act Canada says any "significant" foreign direct investment in a Canadian firm -- currently more than $344 million -- must pass a government review to see if it generates a "net economic benefit to Canada" or generates a national security risk for the country.

Under this law, Ottawa last week rejected a deal led by Egyptian telecom entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris to buy the fiber-optic network division of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. The government cited national security concerns.

The Canadian and U.S. governments, including the U.S. Defense Department, as well as many corporations, use BlackBerry phones and send millions of emails daily through the telecommunication company's secure wireless data network.

Canada's Industry Ministry and the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission had no immediate comment on Lenovo's BlackBerry interest.

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