Research In Motion Ltd.’s (Nasdaq: RIMM) enterprise-services unit has attracted the interest of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), two people familiar with the situation have told Bloomberg news.

IBM made an informal approach about possibly acquiring the division, which operates a network of secure servers used to support its BlackBerry devices, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the matter is private.

The business may be valued at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion depending on the mix of assets included, according to Berenberg Bank.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Reuters reported that Samsung denied interest in buying RIM or licensing its new mobile operating system.

RIM maintains a research and development operation in the Triangle.

One analyst questioned whether RIM would sell the group.

“If they were to offload this, they are offloading their jewel,” said Adnaan Ahmad, an analyst at Berenberg with a sell rating on RIM’s shares. “They want to give BlackBerry 10 a go, so I don’t think this would happen until next year.”

IBM recently closed on the sale of its Raleigh-based retail transaction business unit to Toshiba and also reportedly is interested in buying Israel-based Mellanox Technologies.

No party has shown interest in buying all of RIM or the division that makes its phones, and the Canadian company is inclined to wait for the rollout of BlackBerry 10 phones next year before making any decisions on a sale, the person said. No talks are currently under way, according to the person.

RIM Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins, who took charge in January, is trying to turn the company around after customers defected to Apple Inc. and Google Inc.’s Android, triggering losses and declining sales. The Waterloo, Ontario-based company said in May that it had hired JPMorgan Chase & Co. and RBC Capital Markets to study strategic options. Heins has said he would prefer to find a partner or license RIM’s operating system, rather than pursuing sale.

James Sciales, a spokesman for Armonk, New York-based IBM, said the company doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation, as did Nick Manning, a spokesman for RIM.

BlackBerry 10

RIM, once the world’s leading smartphone maker, is racing to get the BlackBerry 10 lineup ready for its debut early next year, aiming to regain market share lost to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating system. The company also is eliminating almost a third of its workforce and shutting down manufacturing sites to boost efficiency.

Its share of the global smartphone market fell to 4.8 percent in the second quarter from 12 percent a year earlier as Android climbed to 68 percent and Apple slipped to 17 percent, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC.

RIM reported a fiscal first-quarter loss in June of 37 cents a share, excluding some items, more than five times what analysts had predicted.

Sales tumbled 43 percent to $2.8 billion, missing a prediction of $3.05 billion, and the company said it would cut 5,000 jobs.

RIM shares rose 2.4 percent to $7.80 Thursday in New York. The stock has declined 46 percent this year.

IBM employs some 10,000 people across North Carolina.

(Bloomberg contributed to this report.)

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