Microsoft has a secret weapon to take on Apple in the smartphone sector – buy someone who already does, and it appears BlackBerry manufacturer, Research In Motion (RIM), is in Ballmer’s sights.

Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek points out that RIM shares are in decline and warns that Microsoft appears to have a "standing offer to buy them at $50 a share," he told Reuters.

Like Apple, RIM offers hardware, software and services and already plans to launch its own App Store. Microsoft is in a similar business, yet its Windows Mobile software, while widely used isn’t particularly liked by handset owners.

With Apple and RIM clearly involved in a two face confrontation, the analyst’s speculation suggests Microsoft could buy its way into direct competition with Apple in the smartphone market, assuming such a deal goes ahead.

However, D:All Things Daily observes such a merger could fall foul of competition authorities. "Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Microsoft already has a mobile OS in Windows Mobile and the fact that RIM’s client architecture is, you know, based on Linux, wouldn’t a merger between two of the largest players in the smartphone market invite antitrust scrutiny?" writes John Paczkowski.

These rumours have been in circulation since August 2007, when CBC News indicated, “Microsoft has been mentioned as a possible buyer," Frederic Ruffy, an analyst at options education firm Optionetics said. "According to speculation, the software giant might be interested in RIM in response to Google’s recent announcement that it is interested in making its own mobile phone operating system, which would compete with Windows Mobile."

The G1 Google Android phone is claimed to have sold 1.5 million units so far.

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