Nortel Patent Sale Could Face Canadian Review

The Nortel PieThe US$4.5 billion deal for a consortium of companies including Apple, Microsoft, and Research In Motion to buy some 6,000 patents from Nortel could face a review by Canadian regulatory authorities. While Google, Apple, and other U.S. companies sought approval from U.S. antitrust regulators to bid on the patents, the deal itself could fall under the Investment Canada Act, which requires that large investments from foreign companies benefit the Canadian economy or be blocked.

Under this Act, regulators are required to review any and all foreign investments in excess of C$312 million (approximately US$323.2 million), according to The Wall Street Journal. Though the patent sale is just that, a sale, it could still qualify for review as a foreign investment.

Or not.

The Journal also reported that the book value of the patents had been listed by Nortel as C$0 (roughly US$0). If that is the value that applies to regulatory consideration, no review would be necessary.

Another trigger for review would be if assets in a deal generated more than C$73 million in annual revenue, licensing revenue in this case. Unnamed sources told The Journal, however, that the patent portfolio never generated more than C$10 million, and if so, that would also bypass the need for a review.

Even if a review is necessary, the deal wouldn’t necessarily be blocked — it simply needs to be approved by the Minister of Industry, and US$4.5 billion coming into Canada is likely to be viewed as favorable to the Canadian economy when compared to a bunch of patents sitting around in binders in a defunct company’s library.

But wait, there’s more: One of the companies involved in the consortium is Research In Motion, a Canadian company. Turns out that RIM coughed up US$770 million (roughly C$743.3 million) of the total buyout price, meaning that money won’t be changing countries at all (though international financing and accounting might or might not change that), though it’s a small enough portion that it doesn’t affect the equations involved in deciding if a review is required anyway.