Now that more than 1,400 patents related to Palm have changed hands from HP to Qualcomm, it's worth asking what Qualcomm's getting out of this deal, other than a now-defunct piece of mobile history.
When last seen in the wild, Palm devices and the WebOS operating system were part of HP's TouchPad smartphones and tablets, but in 2011, HP decided to pull the plug on the whole operation. Palm lost out big time to Android and iOS, and at that point, it remained little more than a pile of parts to be cannibalized.
The first sign of how that might play out came when WebOS was sold to LG, where it now powers that company's line of smart TVs. Nobody expected much to come of that, but the resulting products have been surprisingly good. But LG's not getting the patents to WebOS -- those are going to Qualcomm as well.
What might Qualcomm be doing with the portfolio? One easy answer is defense -- it's a way to keep both unfriendly competition and patent trolls away from the hoard. The keyword is "unfriendly," since part of the deal involves HP still being able to license the patents in question, though it's unclear what the terms of that deal are or how long they last.
Another distinct possibility is that Qualcomm is looking to use this patent trove to create far more sophisticated all-in-one designs than anything it has now.
To wit: Another of the acquisitions in the same trove is a clutch of patents related to the Bitfone mobile device management platform. Originally acquired by HP back in 2006, Bitfone's products were not aimed at businesses needing MDM for their workforces, but rather at cellphone makers and carriers that need software infrastructures for low-level device management. By that token, Qualcomm could be considering elements for its next system-on-chip designs that make it all the easier for carriers and handset makers to build tightly integrated features.
That said, I wouldn't count on Qualcomm producing its own phone -- not when it's probably far more lucrative to license out its technology to any number of other companies. But it's entirely likely that the company could produce a closely knit mix of system-on-chip hardware, system software (via WebOS), and low-level management tools (via Bitfone). That way, a prospective handset maker could license all those pieces together and only have to worry about higher-level integration between them.
It all squares with the line from Qualcomm's tersely worded press release, that this acquisition will let the company "offer even more value to current and future licensees." After all, Qualcomm had a hand in developing one of the first Palm OS devices back in 1999 -- the Kyocera 6035 -- so it may be looking for ways to deepen its ties with the still-exploding mobile market in all its incarnations.
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