HP's 2,000 webOS patents and how they could reshape everything

HP Palm Veer

Last night I was talking with a VP who works at HP on the former Palm team. He told me they have 2,000 patents for webOS, smart phones, and TouchPad.

Now remember, Google paid $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobile, mostly to get their hands on the 17,000 patents that Motorla held. Now, if you just price HP’s patents at the same price, you come out with $1.48 billion. HP paid $1.7 billion for Palm. So that gets you pretty close to even.

But this VP told me that these patents are almost ALL for modern smartphones, while the Motorola patents included a lot of old stuff that isn’t relevant anymore. So, this patent portfolio could get a premium of, say, 2x what the Motorola patents did. That gets you up close to $3 billion.

And that’s JUST for the patents. They have a few other assets as well:

1. The team is still mostly intact (at least this weekend) and has many talented engineers who used to work on Apple’s iPhone (including the VP who was talking with me).

2. They have lots of UI expertise. webOS is still ahead of all the other smartphone UIs in terms of usability and multitasking ideas. My best friend, Luke Kilpatrick, who works on social media team at VMware, keeps showing me his Palm phone and making fun of my “old school” iPhone.

3. They were working on a 7-inch tablet, and a variety of other things.

So, in the war between Apple, Google, and Microsoft (really the others don’t matter too much to the future) how could the Palm teams reshape the mobile market?

Well, let’s assume Microsoft plonked down the $4 billion to buy this team and patents. They would rejuvenate their mobile team with fresh engineers, and give them even more patents to go after Google with.

What if Apple plonked down the cash? Same thing, only much of this team has already worked at Apple so knows the culture and could fit right in.

Google? Google could benefit the most because its UI is still the worst out of the three major players and it might benefit the most from the additional insurance of the patent portfolio.

One other thing, there was a report that said webOS ran twice as fast on an iPad than on HP’s own hardware.

He said that, while somewhat true, that was only a part of the OS and only some of the times. What they were looking at is the kinds of optimizations that Apple did to its graphics subsystems. He said that while working at Apple they did a ton of work on lots of small graphics areas, which is why the UI feels so “smooth” there. For instance, he said they spent a ton of time just getting a list to scroll at 60 frames per second. That was VERY hard to do, he said, and used it as an example of the kinds of optimizations that very few people outside of the engineers at these big companies understand and that even the press that reports things like “runs twice as fast” don’t understand.

It’s that kind of engineering that is about to be let loose on the world and the other companies know it.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook from recruiters,” he said, while saying that most of his buddies on the team will hang at HP until at least October to see what happens. He knows there’s still deep economic value in the patents and the people who are working on webOS and that if they band together they might get rewarded well.

But the clock is ticking and it’ll be interesting to see what the management does and how they shop around this team and patent portfolio.

One question: what if Facebook bought the team and Google bought the patents?

Now wouldn’t THAT be a hoot? Facebook needs more mobile engineers and could use a team of great UI and expert mobile engineers to build tablet and mobile apps.

We also talked about how the team could transform the TV business. “We were already thinking about that,” he told me. Seems the Google TV business would be rejuvenated by a bunch of new blood who knew how to make good UIs and fun hardware (even though they were always late to the market with the hardware there still is a lot of expertise on that team).

What do you think? Already there’s a crazy set of comments going on Google+.


  1. A natural possibility would be for key members of this team got together with a deep pocket VC firm or serious deep pocket entrepreneur like, Xavier Niel of FreeTV and formed a brand new company that could concentrate on what they know best and let someone else handle the manufacturing and marketing in some form or an other.

    1. Except that this has been tried twice already and both led to failures.  WebOS often gets touted as the best mobile OS out there, but the reviews of the products oftentimes seems to be ‘they’re *this* close.  Another release and it’ll be great’.  Maybe it’s just not that good.  Maybe it’s not the hardware.  Plus you’ve got the ecosystem issue.  What app developer is going to continue with the faith?  My view is it’s over for WebOS.

  2. I would have to agree with you that one of the three companies needs to buy Palm’s patents. Especially Google. They could implement webOS’ UI pretty nicely into Android considering they are both built atop the Linux.

    1.  No no no. Amazon should buy WebOS. They are the only company with the infrastructure to compete with Apple when it comes to delivering media/content. They have a tablet in the works, so why not put WebOS on it?

      1. Jobs doesn’t want Rubenstein but they would want the patents and talent. If you look at Apple’s acquisitions within recent years, Apple has only bought talent and patents. If they can create a competitor in-house they will. Jobs and Cook have openly admitted to acquiring a company for talent with the Siri and Lala acquisitions (Jobs admitted as such at the All Things D conference with Siri).

  3. What mobile world needs in just this very instance, is a external mobile OS that runs from the cloud using unused resources of standby connected devices trough parallel processing and smart task prioritizing to power-up each mobile’s lack of hard”muscle”ware. What else needs is mobile OS that virtualize the wireless card allowing each device to connect simultaneous and share resources over the cloud(grid) to all other active devices in range. 
    Just one opinion. If acted upon though, you’re welcome and don’t be shy to ask consultancy further ;)…


  4. Methinks $AAPL would be the better suitor… I love this statement:

    >> One other thing, there was a report that said webOS ran twice as fast on an iPad than on HP’s own hardware. <<

  5. The only two companies I see buying the patents, WebOS and the team are Apple and MS. Google just spent a third of their cash on MMI. Google has had the design talent but it seems like culture is the reason for poor UX more than anything else.

    Apple could make the deal because it gives Jobs what he wants: patents and talent. I doubt they care too much about WebOS itself.

    MS could make the deal just for the patents but I doubt they care too much about the engineers. One could always use high quality engineers but a lack of them isn’t WP7′s problem.

  6. Hi Robert. Certainly at this point there’s a lot more questions and “what ifs” than there are answers. Whatever the case there is great opportunity up for grabs here for whoever decides to snatch up webOS because I think if in the right hands it could really have a bright future.

    I’m very curious to see where all of this leads and what company decides to invest in these patents. It’s anyone’s guess at this point. The idea that Facebook could potentially gain an advantage if they hired the old team never crossed my mind until reading this post, but you raise a good point Robert because I think they are one of the companies that could benefit the most from such an investment.

  7. Completely ignores the fact that WebOS is and has always been a buggy piece of junk. Oh but one of theses da ys it won’t be. Right.

    1. No, I don’t believe that you read me right or at least you haven’t been following me around. There’s a reason I use mostly Apple equipment. It has far fewer bugs than stuff from other companies. That’s implicit here, but doesn’t remove the value of the patents or the engineers (many of whom worked at Apple where they built the iPhone/iOS).

    2. The OS is far less buggy then android.  Most of the OS issues were related to the hardware.  The Pre suffered from this.  Hardware has been the main failure to the WebOS.

      1. Really?  Not how I recall it.  Check out the reviews of the past on Marco’s post here: http://www.marco.org/2011/08/19/rose-colored-glasses

        1. Marco’s argument was more intended against iOS. The inference of Marco’s post was that HP/Palm lacked the intimacy between hardware and software that Apple has (more than ever with post-PC devices). Both are needed in unison to create a quality product. HP/Palm didn’t do this or didn’t do this enough.

          Some issues that have plagued WebOS have plagued Android as well such as hardware acceleration for the UI and battery life. If you were to ask Marco I’d guarantee you he would pick WebOS over Android had there been no iOS.

        2. That was Webos 3.0.0…since 3.0.2 this is a different story…read Josh re-review.  I am assuming you dont have one either.  Initial reviews were based on 3.0.0 so they werent glowing.  But 3.0.2 is quite nice and very stable!

  8. Why is everyone assuming it will be a US company that buys the assets? I’d think the China or India players would love to escape from the US dominance of the smartphone market, given that they will see the bulk of the growth in it from here on.

    1. Well, if they happen to have $4billion lying around then that would be interesting to see. But this won’t give them escape velocity. webOS is dead and no amount of Chinese companies will save it. It might give a company like HTC, though, it’s own pile of patents to use at the negotiating table, which would be useful, and they actually could use the hardware engineers, I’m sure. The OS engineers? I don’t see a play there.

      1. Well lets look at the mobile market.  Google Buy Moto…Google is suffering from market fragmentation although they have a bigger smartphone % then apple most people I speak with would get an iPhone if it was available on their carrier.  Google will lose market if Apple goes all 3 carriers.  Sure apple has a one size fits all at the moment product but it is desirable and functional yet stable because they control the software and the hardware.  My samsung android device is flaky, disorganized and plain unstable because of android and touchwiz.  My Pre as bad as it was hardware wise it was far and away more stable than my sammy.  

        But back to my points.  You have google grabbing Moto…which is making HTC, Sammy, and LG nervous.  Short term not a problem but long term…???  Not to mention HTC and Samsungs Patent issues with Apple.  Nokia is aligned with Microsoft, Apple has both the Hardware and Software.  RIM grabbed QNX and is dying on the vein at the moment.  So in my opinion if I am samsung or even HTC I would grab WebOS its IP and look at it as at least an option.  Google and Apple are currently battling as well.  So the smartphone and tablet market is a mess.  Might be a nice and smart option for either HTC or Samsung.  We know they can do great hardware add a good piece of software and you might have a winner!    Some patent issues might also go away for samsung if they grab HP IP from Palm.  For Palm holds patents apple is paying on.  If someone like lenovo or Dell get HP Palm division it will be a waste.  Those companies will not do anything with the technology other then make money off the IP.  Seems PC manufacturer struggle with phone manufacturing.  Something Apple doesnt but they have had a large head start and didnt need to hurry up to compete when they came to market…they created on.  If they are smart they go all in with all providers…this will open up their already big market share and close the Google Gap that has came upon them for android has a bigger market share then  iOS because Apple made the mistake of signing an exclusive that was far to long with a bad carrier like ATT.  We will see what is next…once again to be continued!

        1. Google bought Motorola’s patents to defend against patent predator Apple.  Google sells off Motorola’s hardware division. iPhone might keeps adding carriers, but Android is growing more, because there’s just more consumer choices with Android devices.

      2. If someone buys it and moves the UX on top of Android, that’d be a viable path forward.  The apps are already predominantly HTML-based, so there wouldn’t be much of a porting effort for any of the ones that are worth porting.

    2. China or India doesn’t need WebOS. They have Android. Both countries have companies that are forking Android. Why pay anything to acquire WebOS when they have what they wanted for free?

  9. No one is thinking about the current user base of Web OS devices (I’m not one myself).

    I would like to see what would happen if they opened up the source code for others to play with. Would it be worth some VC buying the webOS part of the operation if they opened up the source code? ….surely they would have an ongoing revenue stream from apps…? It’s the only way people would consider developing apps or maintaining the current ones. 

    The VC could also consider licensing the OS to the HiPhone producers for next to nothing, I know its not a market that you americans care about but Africa and China want cheap phones and they really could benefit from and there is huge potential for growth.

    Its also going to be interesting to see how this fiasco hits the rest of HP, I personally will never buy a HP product again.

    Persoanlly, I would have liked to see Nokia wait it out long enough for this to happen rather than selling out to Microsoft. Nokia would have had the best product on the market with their hardware and webOS.

  10. It makes more sense for MSFT to buy it and use it for building Tablets and OS. Talented engineers and great patent portfolio makes it well worth $4B.

  11. How has nobody mentioned the obvious – Google has a second OS out there. I’m sure the ChromeOS team could us both the IP and engineers from webOS. Remember that webOS is built on top of web technologies just like ChromeOS. For that matter, they might be a good fit with the Windows 8 team.

  12. Am I the only one who wants to see Amazon buy WebOS and step into the ring for the ultimate tech company showdown?

  13. Are you sure you were talking to an HP VP? Because it sounds like you were talking to a used car salesman: “But these patents are TWICE as good as those crappy Motorola patents! Buy now and we’ll even throw in pinstripes on your remaining TouchPad inventory!”

  14. I don’t which is batter and easy. But as Android And WebOs Developer, i think WebOs has amazing UI and more fast apps than Android. Android sucks its UI till 
    This is fair that there is huge app market on Android but will take some time in WebOs 
    Let c wht hapn !! 

  15. 只是这个实例需要什么样的移动世界,是一个外部的移动操作系统运行使用,未使用的备用连接的设备槽并行处理和智能任务资源的优先次序,以每个移动电缺乏硬“肌肉”洁具的云。还有什么需要的是移动操作系统虚拟化的无线网卡,让每个设备连接云(网格)范围内的所有其他有源器件的同步和