Palm Gets a Thumbs-Down

Way to go, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) . On Friday, you settled a longstanding patent litigation with NTP for $612.5 million. That's great news for several reasons. Here are two: It's a lot less than the $1.5 billion some had predicted, and it frees up customers who feared a shutdown of the BlackBerry service to go back to buying in abundance. Investors appear to believe that they will -- RIM's shares were up more than 14% as of this writing.

Oddly, they also seem to believe that the so-called "CrackBerry" will draw thousands of new customers from competitors, especially Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) . The maker of the popular Treo smartphone watched its shares decline by more than 7% Monday as of this writing.

But is the NTP deal really that bad for Palm? I've my doubts. Here's why: The Treo hasn't suddenly lost its appeal. Just the opposite, in fact. Researcher Brandimensions last month released a study that said RIM's BlackBerry scores lower than the Treo in terms of customer satisfaction.

What's more, the NTP litigation has had a debilitating effect on sales of the BlackBerry. According to The Wall Street Journal, Research In Motion now says it probably sold 100,000 or so fewer devices in its most recent quarter than previously expected. Certainly some of that is due to hesitancy among customers and prospects, and with the NTP threat removed, demand should once again pick up. But do you really believe that all of these potential buyers just waited for RIM? If you do, may I introduce my cat to your dog? He's selling some sweet beachfront property in Aspen.

Or maybe that villa my cat has been telling me about is really a three-story mansion situated on the California coast. Maybe RIM will get those customers back plus many more. OK, but even then I'd say investors are overreacting. Here's why: Palm's long-term earnings growth rate -- the essential element in figuring a fair value -- has remained in the double digits throughout RIM's legal tussle.

Translation: Investors may have expected some gains for Palm over the short term. But over the long haul, they afforded the company zero benefit for RIM's woes.

That's why today's news shouldn't matter much to long-term buy-to-hold Palm investors. After all, the Treo is still one of the most sought-after smartphones today. That bodes well, considering that the smartphone market grew 70% during 2005, according to researcher In-Stat. And of the 700 million cell phones shipped last year, only 6% were anything like the Treo, BlackBerry, or similar models, says Strategy Analytics. My guess is that that percentage will climb appreciably over time. That means, Fool, that even though Palm investors don't seem to believe it, plenty of revenue and earnings growth is still to come for both firms.

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Palm is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorselection. Wondering what other stocks are helping David and Tom Gardner wallop the market by more than 25% each? Get anall-access 30-day passand find out for yourself.

Fool contributorTim Beyersowns a Treo 600 but none of the stocks mentioned in this story. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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