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Blackberry co-founder Balsillie sells off stake in smartphone pioneer

| Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion Ltd. until January 2012, sold his remaining 5.1 percent equity stake, severing his last formal ties to the company he helped found 20 years ago.

Balsillie reported owning zero shares in RIM as of Dec. 31 in a U.S. regulatory filing on Thursday. Investors who hold an equity stake in a company of less than 5 percent are not required to disclose when they buy or sell the shares, according to Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

Balsillie had been the third-largest shareholder and helped lead the company during its heyday as a smartphone pioneer and market leader, which this year changed its name to just BlackBerry. He departed last year along with co-CEO Mike Lazaridis after fumbling product introductions and losing market share to Apple Inc.'s iPhone and to Android devices.

β€œIt's another tie severed,” said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners in New York. β€œWhen there's so much turmoil in his effort to turn the company around, it's not unreasonable for someone to sell his stake and move on.”

BlackBerry does not comment on the holdings of individual shareholders, said Heidi Davidson, a spokeswoman for the Waterloo, Ontario-based business. Balsillie also declined to comment when approached through his assistant and the company.

Balsillie may have benefited from the stock's fourth- quarter rally before selling it. Optimism about the company's new BlackBerry 10 lineup of phones fueled a 58 percent stock rally in the fourth quarter of last year, rewarding investors after years of declines. After Balsillie's disclosure today, BlackBerry shares tumbled as much as 7.5 percent. The stock later recovered and closed up 7.7 percent to $15.07.

Lazaridis, the fellow co-founder who invented the BlackBerry device, held 29.9 million shares as of Dec. 31, according to a separate filing on Thursday. That gives him a stake of 5.7 percent in the company.

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