HP Reportedly Shopping WebOS Patents

HP is dropping restrictive conditions around the webOS patents in hopes of making them more attractive to potential buyers, says a Bloomberg report.

Hewlett-Packard reportedly is shopping some of its mobile patent portfolio, including those related to webOS, part of CEO Meg Whitman's larger efforts to turn around the tech giant's financial situation.

Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg is reporting that HP officials recently removed some restrictions around the patents to make them easier to sell and more attractive to potential buyers, and have since approached several companies to gauge their interest in buying them.

The effort comes as Whitman continues to push a five-year turnaround plan for the company, which has been hobbled in recent years by executive instability, poor financial numbers and a series of questionable high-priced acquisitions that later led to costly write-offs.

The $1.2 billion acquisition of mobile device maker Palm—which included the webOS operating system—was one of those deals. Leo Apotheker, who was CEO for 11 months between Mark Hurd and Whitman, had a vision of leveraging webOS for a wide range of devices, from tablets to smartphones to PCs. However, the plans were rapidly scrapped after the failed launch in 2011 of the TouchPad tablet, which was on the market for only weeks before poor sale numbers persuaded Apotheker put an end to it.

Ironically, HP's decision to drive down the price of the devices to clear inventory briefly made them one of the fastest-selling tablets.

When Whitman replaced Apotheker later in 2011, she open-sourced webOS, then in February sold the operating system's code to LG Electronics while keeping control of the patents. Now the CEO is looking to sell the patents, removing the restrictive conditions, which could make them more valuable, the anonymous sources told Bloomberg. An HP spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, told financial analysts in 2012 that turning around the world's second-largest PC maker would be a multiyear project, and that she hoped to return HP to profitability sometime in 2014. Part of the effort included cutting 29,000 jobs over several years.

On Oct. 9, Whitman told analysts that she was confident that progress was being made, and that she expects greater stabilization for the company to occur in 2014 with "pockets of growth," followed by the business gaining steam in 2015 and becoming "in fiscal 2016, an industry-leading company."

Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK earlier this month that Whitman's ability to make difficult decisions has helped HP, but that more work is needed.

"Overall, I'd say that Whitman has done a good job of restoring credibility and financial discipline to a company that had been worn down by Mark Hurd and whipsawed by Leo Apotheker," King said. "HP's new style of IT [looks] a bit long in the tooth compared to competitors who have logged more time and gained greater credibility with similar efforts. But at least it's a start, and given the overall success of Whitman's HP efforts, the company's shareholders, customers and employees likely feel they have reason for hope."

HP's efforts also include an aggressive push into the mobile space, only this time with tablets based on Microsoft's Windows 8 and Google's Android operating systems. In addition, Whitman and other executives over the past several months have said the company plans to get back into the highly competitive smartphone market.