A Rosy BlackBerry Future

On a day when high oil prices and bad news from General Motors are weighing down on the market, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) opened roughly 20% higher than yesterday's closing price -- on news that the company has resolved all BlackBerry patent litigation with NTP.

Research in Motion's (RIM) growth -- so phenomenal that the wireless messaging specialist compares sales to the previous quarter, not just to the year-ago comparable quarter -- is driven largely by sales of its handheld wireless BlackBerry devices. The technology behind the BlackBerry is critical to the company's success.

But back in 2000, NTP (a patent holding company) filed suit against RIM, claiming the BlackBerry technology was an infringement on NTP patents -- and since then, the courts have agreed. Pending appeals, RIM has been under a court order to set aside 8.5% of its BlackBerry sales for NTP.

Now, rather than have appeals drag out indefinitely, RIM has agreed to pay NTP $450 million ($137 million of which is already in escrow) to resolve all litigation. Research In Motion gains the right (now and in the future) to use and sublicense any and all of the NTP patents in question to anyone for products or services that interface, interact, or combine with RIM's products. It's a clean, one-time payment that RIM can easily pay from its $814 million cash hoard (per Q3 results of the 2004 fiscal year). Final details of the accord are expected when RIM announces its fiscal year-end results on April 5.

The excitement in RIM shares is easily explained. Recently, the company has issued numerous press releases touting deals with Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , TimeWarner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL Mobile, Nortel (NYSE: NT  ) , Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ  ) , and many others. RIM's future is bright, and settlement of the litigation removes a dark cloud that could have -- worst-case scenario -- prevented the company from selling BlackBerry-based technology.

Investors may balk at paying 60 times trailing earnings for RIM, when indirect competitor Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) sells at 18 times trailing earnings. RIM, though, has a revenue growth rate that is more than 10 times that of Nokia, and RIM's gross margins, at 51%, are 13 percentage points higher than Nokia's, which are 38%. Consider this: For the fiscal year that ends February 2006, analysts expect RIM to earn $2.81 a share -- pricing the stock at a more modest 28 times earnings. In fairness to Nokia, the two companies do not compete directly: Nokia offers a more diversified product basket, thereby reducing revenue growth in more mature product bins (e.g., cellular handsets).

RIM's business is booming. Settling this litigation has allowed investors to see a clear, unobstructed future, and they are bidding the stock up to reflect the rosy outlook for the company and its BlackBerry.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty owns shares of Verizon and likes blackberries with oatmeal. Click here to see The Motley Fool disclosure policy.


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