HP confirms talks to license webOS, Samsung reportedly interested

Hewlett-Packard is negotiating with a number of companies to license its webOS software platform. If HP is successful in licensing its smartphone and tablet OS, the move would represent a major change in the company's current business model and strategy.

"We are talking to a number of companies," HP CEO Leo Apotheker said in Beijing, according to Bloomberg. "I can share with you that a number of companies have expressed interest. We are continuing our conversations." The HP chief said there is "no time pressure" to complete a deal.

Interestingly, according to a Bloomberg report citing three unnamed sources, Samsung is in talks with HP to license webOS; HP and Samsung declined to comment, according to Bloomberg.

Apotheker and other HP executives, including Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president and general manager of Palm's global business unit at HP, have hinted in recent weeks that the company might be open to licensing webOS. However, this is the first time HP has confirmed talks.

"Our model is not to be in the licensing business," Rubinstein said earlier this month at Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Uplinq conference. "We believe there is strength in being able to build the ecosystem ... but HP is willing to partner with one or two special companies." According to Rubinstein, a special company would be a firm that is willing to take the webOS platform and "bring value to it."

However, any kind of licensing deal would be tricky to pull off, said Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg. "No one has ever successfully licensed their technology to a competitor and competed on the hardware side," he said, noting Palm's difficulties in licensing the Palm OS years ago (Palm split into two companies--an OS company and a hardware company--around 10 years ago).

Mobile firms typically either license software--like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)--or build integrated solutions, like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM). "Trying to have it both ways has historically been very difficult," Gartenberg said.

In other HP news, the company said it will give early adopters of webOS a $50 credit to buy a Touchpad tablet, which goes on sale July 1 as a Wi-Fi-only product. HP said through July 31, customers can get a $50 mail-in rebate on the purchase of a new 32 GB TouchPad (which retails for $599.99) when they demonstrate proof of ownership of a Palm Pre, Pre Plus, Pixi or Pixi Plus. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch a version of the tablet with cellular connectivity later this summer.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this HP-Palm blog post

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