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Nortel Might Have a Future

Even as Nortel Networks gets ready to spin off its wireless and enterprise business units, evidence has emerged that the bankrupt giant has a path to remaining a viable company. And what, might you ask, is the magic elixir for weathering bankruptcy and the spinoffs of its most lucrative lines of business? In a word: patents.

Nortel, you see, is retaining ownership of its estimated 5,500 LTE patents, leasing them to wireless division buyer Ericsson. While 600 patents are being sold to Ericsson outright (likely for CDMA), none of them are for LTE, according to Nortel’s Canadian lawyer Derrick Tay.

And how much would Nortel receive from ongoing royalty payments from the leases? JP Morgan analysts have valued that at $2.9 billion, give or take.

The valuation would explain why Research in Motion Ltd. is so interested in getting its hands on the intellectual property. The BlackBerry maker is claiming Nortel blocked it from the wireless auction and is asking the Canadian government to intercede in the issue on the basis of “national security.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s Financial Post also reports that Nortel is doing the same with the enterprise sale: retaining the most valuable patents.

What emerges is a picture of Nortel as a small but powerful R&D firm and lessor of patents, leveraging the strength and value of those patents to continue to hum along. After all, Nortel never said it would fully liquidate, telling xchange that the term “liquidation” was an inaccurate one.

“There are other options, absolutely. Chapter 11 doesn’t have to be the last,” Frost & Sullivan analyst Ronald Gruia told the Financial Post.

Will Nortel continue to exist? Time will tell, but it’s entirely possible that the 127-year-old giant will continue to be a force in the industry, albeit as a behind-the-scenes player.


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