July 28, 2009 / 4:09 PM / 8 years ago

Courts approve Nortel wireless sale to Ericsson

4 Min Read

<p>A sign is pictured outside Nortel's Carling Campus in Ottawa July 24, 2009.Chris Wattie</p>

TORONTO/WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - The $1.13 billion sale of Nortel Networks' prized wireless assets to Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson received the blessing of Canadian and U.S. courts on Tuesday, with a U.S. bankruptcy judge praising the bidding process.

It remained unclear whether the Canadian government will intervene in the deal now that courts have allowed it to go ahead.

Ericsson won an auction for the key CDMA and next-generation LTE wireless technology assets of Canada's bankrupt Nortel early on Saturday, beating out Nokia Siemens Networks and private equity firm MatlinPatterson.

The Delaware and Ontario court proceedings were held in conjunction and connected by video link-up.

Losing bidders and Nortel creditors can appeal the courts' ruling for up to 21 days.

"It's rare for a bankruptcy judge to allow himself to be enthusiastic, but I'm enthusiastic about this process," the Delaware court judge said after the three-hour hearing, praising the efficiency of the sale.

Earlier in the day, Nortel said in a court filing that objections from suppliers Airvana Inc and Flextronics Corp and others had either been resolved or withdrawn.

The deal may still need the approval of the Canadian government, which has been lobbied by Canadian BlackBerry maker Research In Motion to block the sale. RIM argues that keeping Nortel's technology in Canada is vital to national security.

Technology Nationalism?

Canada's leading political parties have waded into the debate, turning the sale into an issue of national policy and pride and questioning how much Canada is doing to support its technology industry.

The minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, potentially facing an election later this year, came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to block the deal.

Observers say the government may lose votes if it lets the assets of Nortel, once a national technology champion, leave Canadian hands.

Industry Minister Tony Clement has so far not ruled out intervening in the transaction but would not comment on any course of government action until after the court hearings.

Under the Canada Investment Act, any foreign takeover of a Canadian business with assets of more than C$312 million automatically triggers a government review.

The Ericsson acquisition would not likely trigger an automatic review of the deal because it is not a foreign takeover of a Canadian company, only a part of a company.

However, Clement can review the deal at his discretion, and under the law cannot comment until that review is complete.

"We will be mindful of the (21-day) appeal process as well as our ICA (Investment Canada Act) process. Our hope is that these processes and any other potential regulatory checks could run concurrently," said Darren Cunningham, a spokesman for Clement.

On Monday, a source said that RIM, which claims Nortel blocked its $1.1 billion approach for the wireless assets last week, has held talks with Nortel about buying the next-generation wireless patents that were not part of the wireless asset sale to Ericsson.

($1=$1.08 Canadian)

Reporting by Pav Jordan, Euan Rocha and Wojtek Dabrowski in Toronto, Louise Egan in Ottawa and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Peter Galloway

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