Palm was indeed one of the few companies with Apple-like mojo in their product design. the actual original webOS team was mostly a bunch of ex-Apple folks trying out on their own and giving the finger to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs even said that Palm made great software and didn't like the debacle happening with HP and Apotheker, while others were salivating.
webOS still has features that other mobile OSes can only dream about. It's the only OS that was fully built to integrate any native Web services at the core of the OS. The iOS5 integration of Twitter is not spectacular, when you think that webOS has integrated Google services, Microsoft services, like Exchange and Hotmail, Yahoo services, Skype, Facebook and Linkedin at the core of the OS since 2009.
For example the recent music service integration introduced by Facebook, where many music apps, such as RDO, Grooveshark, and Spotify all integrate within the platform, is something webOS has been doing in the filed of contacts, communications, email, photo/images services since 2009.
webOS is wht Google Android should have been done. it's like Chrome OS, but actually deployed on real devices people use in their lives, not vanity netbooks that only geeks can buy.
About the patents, HP and Palm have always used them defensively as opposed to offensively, like Apple. HP and Palm believe, like many old tech companies that patents are to be used defensively to stop competitors from attacking. The portfolio is incredible. If HO was to demand $10 bucks for each patents used by competitors running Android, Windows 7, BlackBerry or iOS, they would make a killing. You cannot built a smartphone without infringing on Palm's patents. Another one of their core patents is the one integrating the Web on devices. I know, pretty simple patent, but if you want to use a browser on a phone that's not from Palm, you need to infringe on that patent. If you are looking for a contact just by typing its initials, you are also infringing on a Palm patent.
Palm could generate tons of money for HP and pay for itself, just by requiring everybody to pay for the right of using their vast patents library.