New BlackBerry unit to focus on patents, software

The struggling handset maker combines its 44,000 patents and several key software projects into a single unit as it tries to develop new revenue streams.

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BlackBerry CEO John Chen at CES. Roger Cheng/CNET

BlackBerry said Monday it has created a new business unit that will include its 44,000 patents and several software projects, as the struggling handset maker seeks to find new revenue streams.

The unit, called BlackBerry Technology Solutions, will be led by Sandeep Chennakeshu, who has been involved in wireless, semiconductors and other tech sectors for over 25 years. He has served as president of Ericsson Mobile Platforms and chief technology officer of Sony Ericsson, and is a named inventor on 73 patents. Chennakeshu starts immediately as the new unit's president.

The change follows BlackBerry's rapid tumble from a leading position in mobile devices, as Apple's iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android operating system came to dominate the smartphone market. BlackBerry is shifting away from its failed focus on consumers back to its core corporate and government clients and building on its strengths in security and mobile-device management.

The transition has led to the company substantially shrinking its workforce, with the culling resulting in a 40 percent cut to staffing -- or 4,500 positions -- last September alone.

The BTS unit will comprise a handful of BlackBerry's technologies, including the QNX embedded software, the Internet of Things application platform called Project Ion, cryptography applications, antenna tuning, and BlackBerry's patent portfolio.

"Combining all these assets into a single business unit led by Sandeep will create operational synergies and new revenue streams, furthering our turnaround strategy," Executive Chairman and CEO John Chen said in a statement.

QNX, which helps run automotive multimedia systems, is considered by industry analysts as a key component to BlackBerry's turnaround and Chen has described it as "one of the crown jewels" of his company.

Earlier this month, Reuters obtained an internal memo by Chen that said the company appears to be finished with job cuts and seeks to increase staffing again, a sign of potential stabilization.

Chen, a well-respected turnaround specialist, took the helm at BlackBerry in November and has been quick to get the company back to its core corporate and government customers. In his tenure, the company has worked to produce a low-cost smartphone for emerging markets, as well as two higher-end devices: the Bold-like BlackBerry Classic and the wider BlackBerry Passport.

 

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