OTTAWA — A friendly crowd is unlikely to greet Thorsten Heins on Tuesday, when he makes his first appearance as chief executive at the annual meeting here of Research in Motion.
Shares in the BlackBerry maker have fallen by about 95 percent from their peak in mid-2008.
And last month, not only did RIM post a $518 million quarterly loss, but it also surprised investors by announcing that a new line of phones critical to its future would again be delayed.
But the annual meeting may not be the only forum for shareholders to vent their displeasure. Several securities law experts and some investors say the delay in the BlackBerry 10, and overly optimistic remarks as recently as last week by Mr. Heins since he took over the top job in January, may also make RIM the target of shareholder lawsuits.
“They’re going to get sued and they should get sued because I think a closer look at the record is likely to unearth knowing and willful misrepresentation,” said Jean-Louis Gassée, the former president of Apple’s products division and the founder of the software maker Be, who is now a venture capitalist and blogger in Palo Alto, Calif. “When the C.E.O. says there’s nothing wrong with the company as it is, it’s not cautious, it doesn’t make sense.”
After disappointing shareholders in June, Mr. Heins gave a radio interview last week, wrote opinion pieces for two Canadian newspapers and took online questions from visitors to The Globe and Mail’s Web site. As part of a public relations offensive, speaking with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he forecast a sunny future for Research in Motion by saying, “There’s nothing wrong with the company as it exists right now” and denying that RIM was, as some investors believe, in a death spiral.
In a statement, RIM rejected any suggestion that the company had misled investors. “RIM is well aware of its disclosure obligations under applicable securities laws and is committed to providing a high level of transparency, as evidenced by RIM’s decision to issue an interim business update on May 29, 2012, to alert shareholders that it expected to report an operating loss,” the company said.
While securities laws vary in Canada, where RIM is based, and the United States, where its stock is also traded, companies are generally required to report promptly any developments that may significantly alter their financial state. The BlackBerry 10 delay is unquestionably such a change, Canadian and American law experts said.
Any shareholder class action would also have to show that Mr. Heins or others within RIM knew that a delay was likely or a strong possibility when he was publicly boasting about the product’s progress and promising on-time delivery.
The legal experts said repeated statements earlier this year by Mr. Heins and other senior RIM executives — that the BlackBerry 10 line of phones would arrive in stores as planned by the end of this year — could support this claim.
For example, on May 1, at a conference for app developers in Orlando, Fla., Mr. Heins unveiled an incomplete prototype BlackBerry 10 phone and, along with other RIM employees, demonstrated features of its operating system.
During the presentation, Mr. Heins repeatedly and enthusiastically told the audience that the new product would be out by the end of this year.
“Every day I get questions about the progress on BlackBerry 10,” he said. “I appreciate all of the interest on our next-generation platform and I promise, I promise to you that the whole company is laser-focused on delivering on time and exceeding your expectation.”
He added at another point, “We’re making good progress, and I’m committed to sharing the progress with everyone right up until the launch later this year.”
Similar sentiments were offered at other developer sessions by other RIM executives over the following weeks.
Exactly what changed between the beginning of May and the end of June is unclear. Nor is it apparent when Mr. Heins decided that the delay would be necessary.
During a conference call to discuss the earnings, Mr. Heins said the volume of software that must be handled to integrate all of BlackBerry 10’s components “has proved to be more time-consuming than anticipated.”
Even without the delay, many financial analysts were concerned that the BlackBerry 10 was already too late to market. The delay means that it will be facing off against new and improved phones and operating systems from Apple, Microsoft and Google.
“There’s a high risk of litigation here,” said James D. Cox, a law professor at Duke. “The outcome of the litigation would be hard to predict.”
Richard McLaren, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, said that in Canada companies are required to immediately disclose major changes in their operations.
“When you’ve used language like ‘laser focused on coming in on time,’ you’ve really raised expectations,” he said.