Hewlett-Packard Said to Be Seeking to Sell Mobile Patents

Hewlett-Packard Co. is seeking buyers for some of its mobile-computing patents, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, as Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman tries to bolster the company’s financial position.

The Silicon Valley computer maker has approached potential buyers about the portfolio of patents, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The intellectual property includes those related to WebOS, the smartphone and tablet-computer operating system that Hewlett-Packard bought through its 2010 acquisition of Palm Inc., which it later wrote down.

In recent months, Hewlett-Packard has removed some restrictive conditions that made the patents unattractive to buyers, said two people who have reviewed the portfolio. That made the patents more appealing to prospective buyers, and more likely to fetch a higher price, these people said.

Hewlett-Packard, the world’s second-largest maker of personal computers, is trying to recover from several years of management turmoil, declining sales and profit and a balance sheet damaged by bad acquisitions. Whitman, in her third year as CEO, is stabilizing revenue, returning more cash to shareholders and has crafted a mobile-computing approach centered around Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system and Google Inc.’s Android.

“We don’t comment on rumor and speculation,” said Michael Thacker, a spokesman for Hewlett-Packard.

Lucrative Currency

In today’s market, where computing devices increasingly rely on technology developed by a variety of inventors, patents have become valuable currency. Google agreed to pay $12.5 billion in 2011 to buy Motorola Mobility, in large part for its patents. Apple Inc. and Microsoft the same year led a consortium that paid $4.5 billion for more than 6,000 Nortel Networks Corp. patents. And AOL Inc. sold and licensed a trove to Microsoft for $1.06 billion last year.

Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, California, didn’t manage to make Palm’s WebOS -- part of a $1.2 billion acquisition -- into a success. Whitman’s predecessor, Leo Apotheker, promised to incorporate WebOS into the company’s personal computers and shipped an ill-fated tablet called the TouchPad. He later shuttered the Palm division and halted device production.

Whitman initially turned WebOS, designed for smartphones and tablets, into an open-source software project and rebranded it as a wholly-owned subsidiary called Gram. She sold the operating system’s code to LG Electronics Inc. earlier this year.

Hewlett-Packard retained WebOS’s patents under that deal and licensed them to LG. The agreement would be unlikely to encumber Hewlett-Packard’s ability to sell its WebOS patents, one of the people with knowledge of the sales process said.

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