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Apple pays $10M to license Palm, other patents

Apple has reached patent licensing agreements with Access Co., the Japanese company that owns some patents related to the Palm operating system, as well as Bell Communications Research and Geoworks.

Apple's iPhone 5
Apple may once have called Palm's patents essentially worthless, but it doesn't seem to think that anymore.

The company reportedly spent 1 billion yen, or $10 million, to license patents from Access Co., a Japanese company that makes software for mobile devices, set-top boxes, and other products. Access acquired PalmSource, the owner of the Palm operating system, in late 2005.

A Google translation, via the Japanese-language Macotakara blog, notes the agreement was signed on March 31 and covers smartphone patents from Palm, PalmSource, Bell Communications Research, and Geoworks.

We've contacted Apple and Access and will update the report when we have more information.

Steve Jobs threatened Palm in 2007 with a patent lawsuit if the company didn't agree to a deal with Apple whereby neither company would poach the other's workers, according to court filings. When Palm responded that it might launch a suit of its own, Jobs replied by pooh-poohing Palm's patents and saying, "We are not concerned about them at all. My advice to you is to take a look at our patent portfolio before you make a decision."

Patent-related litigation has been rampant in the technology sector, particularly in the fast-growing smartphone and tablet markets. Apple won a landmark patent case against Samsung in August last year and many other companies have been suing each other over infringement.

Some companies have focused on licensing technology and making acquisitions -- like Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility -- to help build their patent arsenals. Microsoft in late 2010 licensed dozens of patents from Access. The patents were described as "foundational" in the smartphone market.

Palm was one of the early pioneers in the smartphone market, but it struggled to compete with Apple and Google's Android. PalmSource, which developed and licensed the Palm OS powering the Treo and other devices, was spun off from Palm in 2003. After that Palm switched to a newer operating system called WebOS. It was purchased by Hewlett-Packard, which soon scuttled its plan to make Web OS devices. However, LG recently struck a deal to buy WebOS from HP with the intention to use the operating system in its smart TVs.

(Via 9 to 5 Mac)