Qualcomm Buys Palm Patents From HP

The mobile chip maker buys 2,400 patents that map HP's troubled history in the mobile device space.

Qualcomm has bought a large cache of patents, including some stemming from Palm, from Hewlett-Packard, a move officials with the chip maker said includes patents pertaining to a mobile operating system.

Qualcomm officials said Jan. 23 that the portfolio includes patents related not only to Palm, but also to iPaq and Bitfone. In all, the chip vendor bought about 1,400 granted patents and pending patent applications in the United States, and another 1,000 granted patents and patent applications from other countries.

The patents cover "technologies that include fundamental mobile operating system techniques," Qualcomm said in a statement.

The patents involve technologies that HP officials tried to leverage in earlier attempts to gain traction in the mobile device space. HP bought Compaq in 2002 in a highly controversial $25 billion deal that merged two of the largest PC makers at the time. Through the deal, HP inherited Compaq's iPaq handheld device, which was based on Microsoft software and went on sale a couple of years before the deal with HP went through.

Four years later, HP bought Bitfone and its mobile device management solutions, technology the company applied to the iPaq.

HP officials expected the $1.2 billion acquisition of mobile device maker Palm—which included the webOS operating system—in 2010 would form the foundation of another push into the booming smartphone and tablet markets. Leo Apotheker, HP's CEO in 2011, had envisioned leveraging webOS in a range of systems, not only mobile devices but also PCs and possibly embedded systems. However, HP quickly scrapped those plans after the failed launch of the TouchPad tablet, which was on the market for only weeks before poor sales numbers persuaded Apotheker put an end to it.

Apotheker's term as CEO ended soon afterward, and he was replaced by Meg Whitman. Whitman has since reiterated HP's need to get back into the mobile device space—the company is a computer company and needs to be in every computing market—but not with webOS. In October 2013, reports began circulating that HP was shopping some of its mobile patent portfolio, including patents related to webOS.

HP on Jan. 15 unveiled a pair of new 6- and 7-inch "phablets"—what the company calls "voice tablets"—that will be offered in India. The Slate6 and Slate7 VoiceTabs will run Google's Android mobile OS.

Officials with Qualcomm, the top mobile chip maker, did not release financial details about the deal, or what they intend to do with the patents. In a statement, they said the "acquisition further enhances the strength and diversity of Qualcomm Incorporated's industry-leading mobile patent portfolio and will enable the company to offer even more value to current and future licensees."

Tech vendors over the past several years have been building up their patent portfolios to not only help develop new products, but also to protect themselves in case they are hit with lawsuits claiming patent infringement. Qualcomm last year entered into the burgeoning wearable device market with its introduction of the Toq smartwatch.