BlackBerry's encryption patents could be its saving grace

While the struggling smartphone maker searches for a potential buyer, its healthy portfolio of 130 encryption patents could help sweeten the deal.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr

Days after BlackBerry announced it was for sale, some people suggested that the beleaguered phone maker sell its patent portfolio to avoid going into the red.

While BlackBerry's smartphones sales have been tepid at best, the company still has a healthy portfolio of 130 encryption patents. In fact, MIT Technology Review suggested these patents could be the company's biggest asset.

What's unique about BlackBerry's security patents is that they use what's called elliptic curve cryptography, which is regarded as more efficient than RSA algorithms for small devices. BlackBerry bought these patents for $106 million from the developer Certicom in 2009.

According to MIT Technology Review, this encryption technology will probably become one of the chief ways data is secured worldwide and therefore will continue to increase in value. Elliptic curve cryptography is not in high-use today because licensing the patents is so expensive.

The U.S. government has had a long-standing licensing arrangement with BlackBerry to use elliptic curve cryptography to protect its departments and agencies' data. Many governments also prefer using BlackBerry gadgets to other types of smartphones because of the high security threshold. In May, all of the BlackBerry 10 devices succeeded in passing the rigorous U.S. Department of Defense security requirements

. As BlackBerry weighs its options on how to best explore its "strategic alternatives," it appears these patents could give it some wiggle room. Either BlackBerry could sell the patent portfolio for a boatload of money or hang onto it to be more attractive to potential buyers.