RIM reviewing 'strategic opportunities,' including licensing BlackBerry 10

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) said it is "undertaking a comprehensive review of strategic opportunities including partnerships and joint ventures, licensing and other ways to leverage RIM's assets." The announcement coincided with the release of the company's fiscal fourth-quarter results.

Research In Motion blackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins


Along with the results, RIM also announced that its CTO of software, David Yach, and its COO of global operations, Jim Rowan, are quitting the company. Jim Balsillie, RIM's former co-CEO, also said he resigned as a director on the company's board.

"As I complete my retirement from RIM, I'm grateful for this remarkable experience and for the opportunity to have worked with outstanding professionals who helped turn a Canadian idea into a global success," Balsillie said.

The executives are the latest to eject from RIM, which has struggled in recent months with falling revenues, shipments and market share amid increased competition from the likes of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung, Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) and other smartphone vendors.

As for RIM's strategic review, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said the company will consider all options, including partnering with other companies, licensing its BlackBerry 10 platform to other manufacturers, or engaging with ODMs to build new BlackBerry products.

The review will even go so far as to cover a possible sale of the company.

"We would consider it [a sale of the company], but it is not the main direction we're taking now," said Heins, the RIM executive who recently took over the CEO post from Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.

On licensing specifically, Heins said: "There are many companies still looking at ways to participate in the phenomenal growth of the mobile community. We believe that by broadening our scope in terms of how we will proceed with BlackBerry 10 and beyond, there may be opportunities to leverage the power of BlackBerry technologies with what new partners can bring to the table."

The comments are interesting in light of recent market rumors that indicated RIM was in discussions with Samsung for licensing its BlackBerry platform. Both companies have declined to comment on the rumors.

An effort by RIM to license its BlackBerry platform could run into significant challenges. RIM isn't the first company to pursue a licensing strategy; Hewlett-Packard attempted a similar gambit with its webOS platform, and before that Nokia also tried it with its MeeGo offering. Aside from Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, no smartphone platform has generated significant interest among manufacturers from a licensing standpoint.

Admitted Heins: "This is not without risk and challenges, and there is no guarantee of success."

In its financial results, RIM reported revenue in its fiscal fourth quarter of $4.2 billion, down 19 percent from its previous quarter and down 25 percent from its same quarter a year ago. The company reported a net loss for the quarter of $125 million, a drop from the net income of $265 million it posted in the prior quarter and the net income of $934 million it scored in the same quarter a year ago. During the quarter, RIM shipped around 11.1 million BlackBerry smartphones and over 500,000 BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.

The quarter represents RIM's first financial loss in seven years. RIM said that, due to its unstable business, it would no longer provide financial forecasts.

RIM executives said the company remains on track to release BlackBerry 10 smartphones in the latter part of this year. The company is betting on its redesigned BlackBerry 10 products, based on its QNX software, to refresh RIM's prospects.

In launching BB 10, RIM said it would refocus on the enterprise market to regain its footing, but also cautioned that this strategy didn't mean it would withdraw from the consumer market. However, Heins said RIM would pull back from its services business, and that it would not longer focus on offerings like media consumption applications.

RIM's sluggish results indicate tepid interest in its new BlackBerry 7 products, released with a major marketing push just a few months ago. Indeed, RIM said it would record an "inventory provision" of $197 million "on certain BlackBerry 7 products," which indicates RIM isn't selling the BlackBerry 7 products it had hoped to.

Heins said RIM hopes to increase sales of its BlackBerry 7 phones ahead of the launch of its BlackBerry 10 products. To do so, he said RIM would "aggressively incentivize sales of BlackBerry 7 smartphones," language that could indicate RIM will cut prices of the gadgets. Heins also said RIM will introduce new, inexpensive BB7 phones to compete more directly with other low-cost smartphone makers.

Interestingly, RIM also announced that during the past year it "experienced a service interruption, which resulted in the loss of service revenue and the payment of service credits totally approximately $54 million, approximately $40 million after tax, related to the interruption in the availability of the company's network."    

For more:
- see this release
- see this Reuters article
- see this SlashGear article

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RIM to hand out prototype BlackBerry 10 phones to developers in May
RIM's HSPA+ and LTE PlayBook tablets could be headed to U.S. market
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Article updated March 30 with additional information on RIM's strategy.