A dark month for Canada

BlackBerry Fairfax Merger Collapse

November is starting fairly disastrously for the gentle giant of the north. Apart from crack-huffing mayors and bordello-visiting pop stars, Canada must now face another abrupt reversal of fortune regarding its most important tech company, BlackBerry. Many would argue that it’s no surprise BlackBerry did not find a buyer, but the 15% plunge in the company’s share price on Monday morning suggests otherwise.

Wall Street was actually lulled into false hope about a consortium of buyers swooping in, most likely because there has been an extraordinary series of leaks about potential buyers in recent weeks, from Apple’s former CEO and Facebook to Qualcomm and Cerberus. Day after day, the markets were fed a stream of tantalizing ideas about new buyers scooping up BlackBerry. In the end, none of them stepped up.

Was this series of leaks orchestrated deliberately to create an illusion of serious suitors? Were any of them more than mildly diverted by rifling through BlackBerry’s books? It’s hard to say. But it is clear that valuing patent portfolios of handset companies has become fiendishly complicated as a recent series of massive litigation marathons between Google, Samsung, Apple, etc. has dragged on.

These companies have burned through hundreds of millions of dollars hurling patent suits, countersuits and appeals all around. We are no closer to figuring out who is truly ahead in the patent game and how much that edge might be worth in the long term. The market faith in the value of patent portfolios has been shaken as the mobile giants are stuck in the protracted trench warfare of their own making.

BlackBerry’s biggest trump card may now be the stellar start of the BBM app that’s now available for iOS and Android customers. BBM breezed through 20 million downloads in its first week of availability for Apple and Android phones. It demonstrated surprisingly wide appeal across Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

But November has been cruel so far. On Friday morning, BBM still clung to No. 4 spot in the United States iPhone download chart. By Monday morning, it had slumped to No. 40. This is a very, very steep drop over a three-day period. BBM is still a top 5 app in 61 countries but it has dropped dramatically in some of the major markets where it was soaring just four days ago: Down to No. 55 in Australia, No. 134 in Germany and No. 135 in Brazil.

These are OK numbers since being the No. 41 iOS app in America still means that BlackBerry has the No. 7 iOS social networking app. But these tumbles have to stabilize right now. BlackBerry’s future rides on turning BBM into a credible app marketing and advertising vehicle.

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