BlackBerry Sells 90 IP Patents to Chinese Tech Giant Huawei

BlackBerry has sold a number of its IP patents to Huawei.

A new report from The Globe and Mail explains that BlackBerry has sold 90 patents to controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei as part of a larger effort by the Canadian smartphone pioneer to offload most of its intellectual property.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), BlackBerry ceded the ownership of the 90 patents to Huawei back on December 23. While these 90 patents only represent a small fraction of the BlackBerry’s 38,000 patent treasury, many of them cover crucial advancements back to when the company was a market leader.

A Blackberry spokeswoman confirmed that the company had “sold/transferred 90 US patents to Huawei, authorized under applicable rules.” She called the transaction very small… and not part of an ongoing arrangement.”

While the sale is the latest step in BlackBerry’s multi-year efforts to refocus the business, it raises questions about the Canadian government’s innovation strategy and its commitment to protect key assets of fall into the hands of foreign companies, especially those whose motives have raised alarm bells among Canada’s national security allies.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail after announcing his imminent departure from federal politics, outgoing Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains declined to comment on the details of the BlackBerry-Huawei deal, but said the government had a “Strong Investment Canada law that reviews transactions in matters of national security. We used [it] in the past to support Canadian businesses and to support economic interests as well as our national security interests. … We have the tools and the legislation in place to protect Canadians.”

“Canada has a long history of appropriating and retaining intellectual property [IP] acquisitions and cybersecurity threats,” said Waterloo patent attorney Jim Hinton and co-founder of Innovation Asset Collective, an Ottawa-funded patent collective to help Canadian innovators.

Having quit the handset business in 2016 following a spectacular fall from grace, BlackBerry shifted focus to the enterprise, IoT, and security software sectors. Its mobile phone brand was initially licensed to TCL Communication and has subsequently been taken on by start-up OnwardMobility.