"A billion here, a billion there -- pretty soon you're talking real money."

If that's true, then what do you call Honeywell's (NYSE:HON) latest news? On Monday, the industrial conglomerate, maker of everything from jet engines to digital thermostats, said it's hooked up with tiny consumer electronics manufacturer Soyo Group in a deal destined to generate $3.84 million over the course of six and a half years. Okay, admittedly, that's the "minimum" worth of the contract, but still, it seems a trifling sum.

Last year, Honeywell recorded sales of $31.4 billion, netting 6.6% of that sum as profit. For its part, Soyo Group, which trades over the counter as SOYO.OB, had just $48.9 million in sales and netted 2.4% on them. It's hard to conceive of a bigger mismatch between business partners.

Just as hard to conceive: Why Honeywell -- or anyone, for that matter -- would want to enter the cutthroat LCD TV game. When you consider that companies from AU Optronics (NYSE:AUO) to LG.Philips LCD (NYSE:LPL) to Sony (NYSE:SNE) are all struggling to make money in this business, often unsuccessfully, it seems like a sucker's bet.

You (don't) gotta play to win
Except for one thing: Honeywell appears to realize that it's a sucker's bet, and has worked out a way to dip its toe in the consumer electronics market without risking taking a bath. According to news reports on the collaboration, Honeywell won't actually be making the TVs. Rather, it will let Soyo do all the work of manufacturing and distributing the sets. Honeywell's role will be simply to permit Soyo to slap "Honeywell" name tags on the results, and cash the royalty checks.

Admittedly, Honeywell will need to keep a close eye on the TVs produced under its brand name. It wouldn't do to let shoddy merchandise slip through and sully the firm's reputation for quality -- that could easily do more than $3.84 million in damage to the firm's brand and goodwill. But with Soyo promising that it will use Honeywell's brand only on its "top models," that risk should be mitigated.

In which case, while $3.84 million still may not be "real money," it could well be "free money."

For more on the LCD TV industry, read:

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Fool's disclosure policy catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.