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HP sheds some of Palm's last remnants with patent sale to Qualcomm

HP sheds some of Palm's last remnants with patent sale to Qualcomm

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Palm V
Palm V

Qualcomm is beefing up its patent portfolio with the remants of Hewlett-Packard's smartphone history. The mobile processor and radio giant has just announced that it has acquired 1,400 mobile patents and patent applications from the computer company, including intellectual property from Palm, iPAQ, and Bitfone. The portfolio includes 1,400 US patents and patent applications, and 1,000 patents and patent applications abroad, but it's not clear how much those might overlap.

The company's press release doesn't include many other details, such as how much Qualcomm paid for the patents, but does say the intellectual property includes "fundamental mobile operating system techniques." Qualcomm writes that the aquisition "will enable the company to offer even more value to current and future licensees."

Something of a homecoming

For Qualcomm, some of these ideas will finally be coming home. Qualcomm developed one of the very first PalmOS smartphones in 1999, the PDQ 800, after failing to convince Apple to put a cellular radio into the Apple Newton PDA. The PDQ 800 later morphed into the Kyocera QCP-6035 at retail, and both predated the far more famous Treo line of smartphones. The patents are also following one of Palm's biggest names over to Qualcomm: former Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein, who joined Qualcomm's board of directors last year.

It's not clear what, if anything, this might mean for LG's line of new webOS televisions, which use HP / Palm patents as well. While LG bought the rights to webOS from HP in February of last year, it didn't acquire patents in the deal.

IPAQ were a line of PDAs that ran Windows Mobile. They were originally developed by Compaq, before HP and Compaq merged in 2002. HP purchased Bitfone in 2006, which built mobile device management software.

The press release also doesn't mention whether HP will retain a license to these patents. HP's consumer hardware business has faded since the death of Palm, but it appears the company still intends to build smartphones for certain markets. The company recently announced the HP Slate6 and Slate7 VoiceTabs for India, some sixteen months after CEO Meg Whitman said that smartphones would still be an important business for the company.

What will Qualcomm do?

What will Qualcomm do with the patents? Perhaps, like the PDQ 800, the company could produce a phone of its own — but more likely the company will simply add them to its treasure trove of intellectual property to extract licensing fees and broker deals from other mobile technology firms. It's a little-known fact that Qualcomm makes more of its money from licensing out its technology than from the chips it sells, although the intellectual property can also help it negotiate chip deals.

While the company did recently build a piece of hardware, the Qualcomm Toq smartwatch, it's little more than a showcase for technologies like Qualcomm's Mirasol color e-paper display and WiPower wireless charging. The company would generally prefer that others build consumer hardware — which might be why we saw a Qualcomm Toq screen the last time we visited the Pebble offices.

Update: "This does not change our strategy with respect to mobile, and we will retain a license to these patents," an HP spokesman tells The Verge. Qualcomm will be indeed be taking possession of webOS patents as part of the deal.