HP inherited an interesting operating system when they purchased Palm. webOS, the Palm OS, was the star mobile OS that HP hoped would be able to compete effectively with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The surprising thing is that many developers saw HP webOS as a really powerful operating system that just needed a bit of traction in order to really rival the other big operating systems. The main point was of course to get a large enough number of developers to pay attention to it and start developing apps for it. But everything went wrong when HP panicked and pulled the plug on their TouchPad tablet PC. This was seen by most as the wrong move at the wrong time because the tablet had barely hit shelves when HP decided to shelve it. And what’s more, HP even went a step further to shut down their entire computer business in favor of developing software, which they hope to achieve through acquiring Autonomy Corp, a British software company, at a price tag of $11.7 billion.
But it may not be all doom and gloom for HP. Apparently, there are a number of patents that Palm came along with when it was acquired by HP and these patents are what have large tech companies lining up at HP’s doors. First in line is Oracle, who are currently embroiled in a legal clash of the Titans with Google. Oracle is suing Google for IP infringements upon Sun’s Java patents. Oracle claims that Google has knowingly and intentionally used well-known and patented Java development standards in the development of Google’s Android operating system. Oracle add that Google hired a significant number of former Sun employees who were responsible for the development of Java starting with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. If Oracle were to appropriate the HP webOS patent portfolio, it would give Oracle sufficiently more firepower in their assault on Google. Ironically, Microsoft challenged HTC on similar grounds and are reportedly making up to $5 for every HTC device sold.
Next in line of likely HP webOS purchasers would be BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. In my previous post about BlackBerry’s future, I highlighted how RIM are having trouble finding their mojo in the cutthroat smartphone market. RIM may not have demonstrated any interest in HP webOS but it would be that much-needed edge that they need so badly. Consider that they already have a very solid brand and distribution channel. They have everything but one thing, an OS that would rival iOS and Android. BlackBerry OS may be great but not THAT great. HP webOS would give BlackBerry something that it has lacked all along, a vibrant and rapidly expanding developer community and app store to match. It will be interesting to see how things shape up as HP begins divesting of it’s PC and mobile phone business.