Samsung Debuts Bada Devices, Invests Small Fortune In R&D. WebOS Included?

Some details emerging today on a key angle in the Samsung vs. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) fight, which underscore how Samsung is upping its game with its own products: today it was revealed that the company plans to spend as much as $9.3 billion (10 trillion won) on R&D this year alone to boost its competitiveness.

The R&D news comes on the back of speculation that the company may look to buy HP’s mobile platform, WebOS, as it continues to unveil more Android devices as well as products based on its existing proprietary OS, Bada.

The report on Samsung’s R&D, published by the Korean news agency Yonhap, notes that Samsung invested 4.98 trillion won in the first half of this year, and it is expected to increase that amount in the second half. The 4.98 trillion won equates to 6.5 percent of annual sales, it said.

This figure covers more than just mobile devices. Also included are semiconductors, displays (which it sells to companies like Apple) and other electronic products that range from computers to home appliances, as well as software development.

As a point of comparison, Apple is estimated to have invested about $2.3 billion in the last 12 months on R&D, according to Horace Dediu, an analyst with Asymco. Like Samsung, that figure covers not just mobile devices and software like the iPhone, iPad and iOS, but also Mac products and other services and software. Since 2005, Apple has invest less than five percent of its quarterly revenues in R&D, Dediu notes, with that proportion in many quarters around 2.5 percent.

What to make of Samsung’s high spend on R&D? The last few days have seen reports circulating that claim Samsung is looking to buy WebOS — the mobile platform that HP (NYSE: HPQ) has slightly left in the cold now that it has decided to stop making mobile devices. The $9.3 billion figure put out today shows that it definitely has the budget and managerial directive to consider such a buy.

The Taiwan-based blog Digitimes, the source of these reports, reports that Samsung is interested in buying the platform to better compete against Apple’s iOS and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), which is currently a partner but with its purchase of Motorola (NYSE: MMI) has become more of a competitor.

Given Samsung’s heavy reliance on Android and continuing investment in that platform, it seems crazy to think that WebOS could have a place there, but as Asymco points out, it appears that Samsung might be approaching a moment where it is trying to focus more attention on its own platforms rather than relying on third parties to supply them.

That theory has partly also been borne out by Samsung’s own continuing push on the Bada platform. Just today, the company released three new devices, the New Wave 3, Wave M and Wave Y, using its proprietary OS, with its new messaging service ChatOn, being one of more notable enhancements on the devices.

And it has been making some significant hires of software engineers who can help further customize its offerings, including Steve Kondik, who made his name with the popular aftermarket firmware CyanogenMod.

(That’s one more intriguing bridge in the Samsung / WebOS rumor: coincidentally, CyanogenMod yesterday was revealed to be the first group to get Android to work on the WebOS-based TouchPad.)

Patents. The Yonhap article notes one other area where we could see Samsung investing some of those R&D dollars: patents. It turns out that Samsung is possibly one of the more formidable companies out there already in the patent game. It currently holds 100,452 patents worldwide, with 4,551 of them registered in the U.S. in 2010 alone, putting it second “after IBM in terms of patents secured in a one-year period.”