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BlackBerry maker is in a deep slide and may be forced to sell to survive Stock has fallen 93% since peak in 2008

Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the BlackBerry, is in steep decline. The company, once the crown jewel of the Canadian technology industry, is now worth 1 percent of Apple's market capitalization. One way for RIM to stop the downward tailspin: It could sell itself to a competitor or financial firm. But who would step up to buy RIM -- and why?

Late Tuesday, the company said it expects to post an operating loss for the current quarter, a sign that BlackBerry sales are falling even faster than analysts expected. Wednesday, the company's stock hit its lowest level since 2003, the year RIM went from making two-way email pagers to smartphones.

The stock has fallen 93 percent since its peak in 2008. Since then, the BlackBerry's dominance as the smartphone for on-the-go business people has been eviscerated by Apple Inc.'s iPhone, and more recently by phones running Google Inc.'s Android software. Research firm IDC says BlackBerrys now account for 6.4 percent of the global smartphone market, a third of what they had two years ago.

In that time, the company's financial performance has suffered. RIM reported a 25 percent revenue decline in the latest fiscal quarter, to $4.2 billion from $5.6 billion. For the full fiscal year that ended March 3, it earned $1.2 billion, or $2.22 per share, on revenue of $18.4 billion. That's down from net income of $3.4 billion, or $6.34 a share, on revenue of $19.9 billion in fiscal 2011.

RIM issued a dire warning about its business Tuesday, saying it is losing money for the second consecutive quarter and will lay off a "significant" number of employees.

Still, the company is defiant. Chief Executive Thorsten Heins says he can turn things around with the help of fresh smartphone software. Heins joined RIM four years ago and was most recently its chief operating officer. He replaced co-CEOs Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis in January after the company lost tens of billions in market value.

"My charter from the board of directors is very clear: long-term value creation with RIM," Heins told the Associated Press in an interview at the company's headquarters in Waterloo earlier this month.

Analysts give the company only a slight chance of coming out of the crisis and back into the high-stakes smartphone game. To hedge its bets, the company has hired bankers to look at its options. It's not actively looking to sell itself, Heins said, but it wants to be prepared.

Last year marked a turning point in the way analysts assess RIM's value. Instead of treating it like a company with a future, they started looking at it as a collection of parts that could be split up and sold separately to the highest bidder.

Michael Walkley at Canaccord Genuity believes most of the company's value lies in the monthly fees it gets from phone companies in exchange for running the systems that deliver email and Web pages to BlackBerrys.

RIM has 78 million users connected to this system, but Walkley estimates that only 20 million are corporate and government users who are likely to stick around because of the communications security RIM provides. The rest are consumers who will jump to competing phones, he believes. That business is worth about $2.75 billion to a competitor, Walkley wrote in a research report Wednesday.

The other major component of RIM's value is its patent portfolio. The company had an early scare in U.S. patent courts in 2006, when it was forced to pay $612.5 million to a small company founded by an inventor who had patents on wireless email delivery. Since then, it's filed for thousands of patents to use as a defense against future suits.

RIM has $2.1 billion in cash, but Walkley discounts this completely, since the phone business will likely start using up cash soon, and downsizing will require severance payments. That means the email network and the patents comprise RIM's entire value at $5.25 billion, by his estimate.

That's very close to RIM's current market capitalization, at $5.4 billion, though a buyer could be expected to pay a premium.

Microsoft is one company that has been suggested as a potential RIM buyer. The software juggernaut is trying to get back into smartphone software, but its Windows Phones haven't been popular so far. Buying RIM could give it a chance to establish itself as a provider of trusted wireless email services, though moving subscribers from BlackBerry to Windows could be challenging.