On Thursday, Qualcomm announced a strategic acquisition from Hewlett-Packard. The smartphone chipmaker picked up a patent portfolio from HP, Hewlett-Packard Development Co. LP and Palm Inc.
The portfolio includes about 1,400 granted U.S. patents and pending patent applications, as well as about 1,000 granted patents and pending patent applications from other countries. Those patents cover technologies that include fundamental mobile operating system techniques.
Qualcomm said the acquisition further enhances the strength and diversity of its mobile patent portfolio. Although no specific plans for the tech were announced, the company said the intellectual property will make it possible to offer even more value to current and future licensees. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Qualcomm Protecting Itself?
HP acquired Palm for about $1.2 billion in 2010 in what former Palm CEO Todd Bradley then called “a transformational deal.” It goes down in history as a poor move from then-HP CEO Mark Hurd.
Just less than a year ago, HP sold the webOS operating system, one of Palm’s key innovations, to LG Electronics for an undisclosed amount. Palm first developed the webOS mobile operating system hoping that it would resurrect the ailing mobile brand. HP bought Palm, largely for the company's webOS assets, and in the next year launched a tablet, the TouchPad, based on webOS. But less than two months later pulled the plug on all webOS projects.
We asked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, for his take on the IP trade. He told us from Qualcomm’s perspective the move is somewhat similar to Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility. Although he’s not sure how much of the IP in the portfolio will actually end up in Qualcomm devices, he said buying a kettle of technology with deep roots in earlier forms of mobile computing may inoculate Qualcomm against future legal challenges.
“There may very well be technology that has commercial value but some of this technology is getting a little long in the tooth from the standpoint of producing new products,” King said. “However, in terms of providing prior art or defending yourself against challenges in court related to patents and who owns what, it is potentially helpful.”
Why Did HP Sell?
The other part of the story is HP’s decision to sell. HP could not immediately be reached for comment but King said the company has found itself with a lot of products and technology that current management believes will not have any real place in the company’s future. But does that mean HP is getting out of mobile?
“Mobile technology is becoming so endemic and widespread now that frankly licensing IP from other patent holders -- or working with the folks that are actually manufacturing these products overseas and licensing the technology through them -- might make more sense than spending billions of dollars on a pot of IT from a large company like Palm,” King said. “Selling the Palm assets doesn’t preclude HP from moving ahead with building its own smartphones or other similar devices. If they decide to do that, they’ll just pursue other avenues as necessary.”