There are some conspiracy theorists who claim that the Apollo 11 moon landings were faked and really took place in an aircraft hanger somewhere in one of the US deserts. The purpose? To fool the American public and put the wind up the Russians. Forty years on and the world of the flat-earthers and UFO apologists has changed little. But now, and of all things in heaven and on earth, it's Nortel that's getting the revisionist treatment, writes Martyn Warwick.
Basically the tall tale goes like this. Yes, Nortel has collapsed and abysmally smug management contributed to its failure but Mike Zafirovski, the CEO who, with the verve and anatomical skill of a latter-day Jack the Ripper, is dismembering the corpse of a once great company and flogging the arms, legs, liver and lights to anyone who'll buy 'em is actually a strategic genius who has a cunning plan to resurrect Nortel as sort of virtual company leasing out patents. Of course! We should have realised that all along!
As proof of the existence of this secret and unstated master stratagem some analysts are latching-on to words spoken recently by Richard Powers, an associate dean at the Rotman School of management at the University of Toronto in Canada, when he said, "It was never stated categorically that they [Nortel's management] were going to liquidate the entire company. It was always thought the Nortel name would not drop off the board and that it might retain some format to continue in a downsized version of what it was."
This was obviously taken as a signal by the conspiracy theorists and lots of those a sandwich or two short of a picnic have now come out to play, so, cue the nutters, roll'em and... action!
These strange bedfellows are basing their bizarre case on the fact that when Ericsson recently bought Nortel's wireless assets, it also acquired some 600 Nortel patents that now will be "assigned" to the Swedish company.
These though, it is claimed, are for "old" CDMA technologies and so don't matter much.
But, in a masterstroke that will ensure that Nortel will one day emerge intact from the Mummy's Tomb to roam the earth once more and frighten the bejasus out of Chinese upstarts like Huawei and ZTE, the company has only leased its LTE patents (it owns 5,500 of them) to Ericsson.
The argument is that by renting-out rather than selling its LTE IPR Nortel could "have the potential" to make getting on for US$3 billion from the leasing deal. That magical figure was conjured into existence by those wizards at JP Morgan and it is not known whether it has any basis whatsoever in objective reality. After all, in terms of objective reality, I have the potential to play cricket for Yorkshire, it's just that the selectors haven't picked me yet. But I live in hope.
Meanwhile, back at the sanatorium, others are claiming that Research In Motion (RIM) the company behind the phenomenally popular Blackberry suite of PDAs twigged that the patents would be worth a king's ransom and hence its interest in bidding for some of Nortel's assets and its chagrin (and demands that the Canadian federal government should intervene in the process) when Nortel pre-included RIM out of the auction process. Apparently, by leasing patents rather than simply selling them, Nortel is spiking RIM's guns. Cunning or what?
Yet others point out that Nortel is taking the same line with the sale of its Enterprise arm - flogging-off the product line and some minor and outdated patents but keeping its hands on the more recent and more valuable ones.
Such a convoluted rationale would have more credence were it not for the fact that Nortel has almost unimaginable debts and is selling itself off, piecemeal, to pay them - and it won't be able to do that without including all its patents in the sales process.
Perhaps it might be possible in the future for some diminished and shriveled rump of Nortel to continue to exist as a feeble little company dealing in a bit of R&D and living on earnings from retained patents, but the old Nortel, the huge and revered company that was the pride of Canada and single-handedly dominated the Toronto Stock Exchange, is no more. It has ceased to be. It's bereft of life. It's a goner. It's an ex-company. Get used to it.
I'll have to go now, it's time for me to take my unicorn to the dentist.
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