Days after BlackBerry announced it was for sale, some people suggested that the beleaguered phone maker sell its patent portfolio to avoid going into the red.
While BlackBerry's smartphones sales have been tepid at best, the company still has a healthy portfolio of 130 encryption patents. In fact, MIT Technology Review suggested these patents could be the company's biggest asset.
What's unique about BlackBerry's security patents is that they use what's called elliptic curve cryptography, which is regarded as more efficient than RSA algorithms for small devices. BlackBerry bought these patents for $106 million from the developer Certicom in 2009.
The U.S. government has had a long-standing licensing arrangement with BlackBerry to use elliptic curve cryptography to protect its departments and agencies' data. Many governments also prefer using BlackBerry gadgets to other types of smartphones because of the high security threshold. In May, all of the BlackBerry 10 devices succeeded in passing the rigorous U.S. Department of Defense security requirements
. As BlackBerry weighs its options on how to best explore its "strategic alternatives," it appears these patents could give it some wiggle room. Either BlackBerry could sell the patent portfolio for a boatload of money or hang onto it to be more attractive to potential buyers.