Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hewlett-Packard’s Acquisition of Palm

Current trends in the smartphones market

Smartphones is a fast growing and emerging sector in the $100 billion mobile phones market. During the credit crunch of 2009, while the overall mobile phones market witnessed a 7 percent decline, the smartphones market registered close to 15 percent growth.

As shown in the tables below, few of the top players of the global mobile handset market, such as LG Electronics, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, do not feature in the list of top 5 players of the smartphones segment. Nokia, RIM, and Apple together account for around 75% of the smartphones market. Though Nokia is the market leader in terms of shipment volumes, RIM and Apple have significantly higher growth rates as compared to other players.

Table 1: Market leaders in Mobile handset Market and their performance in 2008-09

Table 2: Market leaders in smartphones segment and their performance in 2008-09

Smartphones Operating Software (OS) market

Trends indicate that smartphones based on operating systems such as iOS, BlackBerry OS, and Android have registered fast growth rates whereas those based on Symbian, Windows, and Linux are losing popularity and market share [1].

Companies such as HTC, LG, Samsung, HP, Dell, and Lenovo are trying to enter/establish themselves in the smartphones market. However, these companies do not have OS which can compete with that of iPhone and RIM.

Comparison of OS available in the market

Symbian:Open Source, strong patent portfolio, small application base and less user-friendly, loosing market share.

iOS (iPhone): User friendly, large application base, strong patent protection, proprietary OS of Apple but no license for other players.

Blackberry OS: Fast, user friendly, large application base but weak patent portfolio and supports very few hardware platforms.

Open Source, user friendly, developing application base but weak patent portfolio. HTC is currently facing multiple patent infringement charges against its use of Android.

Windows: Strong patent portfolio but is less user friendly as compared to iOS and Blackberry OS, losing market share.

WebOS: User friendly, developing application base, strong patent portfolio but has not been very successful because of financial issues faced by Palm.

HP’s acquisition of Palm

From the above discussion it is clear that for any new player there are very few viable OS options that are backed with a strong patent portfolio. WebOS appears to be the most viable option in this scenario as it is user friendly, capable of multi tasking, and is also protected by a strong patent portfolio.

Patent landscape before and after the acquisition – statistical analysis of patent quality

This analysis was performed on patents falling in the top US classes of Palm’s patent portfolio. Active US patents held by different hardware and OS provider companies in these US classes were identified. Using CPA Global’s patent pending statistical scoring model, these patents were categorized into three segments (High, Medium, and Low). Patents categorized as ‘High’ show characteristics similar to those of high value and high quality patents.

Prior to acquisition:

Table-3: Pre acquisition high value patents of market players

Nokia, Motorola, RIM, HTC, Lenovo, Sony Ericsson, ZTE and Huawei were among the top possible suitors for WebOS according to Morgan Stanley.[2]

Post acquisition:

Table-4: Post acquisition high value patents of market players

As a result of the acquisition, HP now has the highest number of potentially high quality patents among the competitors with proprietary hardware and software platforms. This validates the surmise suggested by several reports that palm’s patent portfolio was the most important reason behind this acquisition.[3][4][5]