Bull, once considered France's "national champion" in computing, is the subject of a takeover bid from French services rival Atos, which has made a €620m offer for the company.
Founded in the 1930s by Fredrik Rosing Bull, a Norwegian engineer who had developed a punch-card machine in 1919, Bull moved into mainframe computers in the 1960s.
Atos claimed that the deal would improve the company's presence "mainly in France, but also in geographies such as Iberia, Poland, Africa and Brazil". It would also bulk up the company's consulting business, particularly in France, and help beef up its expertise in computer security, an area that Bull has focused on for some 15 years.
Like ICL in the UK, Bull was promoted by the government as a "national champion" in IT in the 1950s and 1960s, and acquired customers in particular in the public sector. However, it failed to establish itself overseas sufficiently strongly and was nationalised in 1982. It has undergone repeated restructurings and bailouts ever since.
Even after it was sold off by the French government to a consortium of companies, including Motorola and NEC, it still received more than €1bn in state aid between 2001 and 2005, as well as preferential treatment in French public sector procurements.
Much of Bull's legacy hardware technology today is based on NEC designs, but in a bid to move into new, more profitable technology, it has developed capabilities in smartcards, computer services, cash machines, computer security and even semiconductors, but failed to establish itself profitably enough in any one niche. However, it does maintain a strong presence in the French public sector.
Atos is also in the process of trying to acquire another local rival, Groupe Steria, which has nevertheless approved a bid from Sopra Group instead.
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