When I first saw Palm demo the Palm Pre, I was very excited: for the first time, I saw a phone that looked as if it would be a genuine competitor to the Apple iPhone. Palm has clearly put lot of thought put into its design: the interface is intuitive and fluid, basically invents a reasonable way to do multitasking on a portable device, and still seems to adhere closely to Palm’s historical emphasis on simple, clean UIs—something that my nine-year-old Handspring still does better than my BlackBerry. Yet many people, including me, were somewhat dubious that the Pre in its present form would be able to come to market. Much of its appeal comes from the fact that it clearly owes much to the iPhone—which is heavily patent protected. Apple would stand to gain a lot by attempting to prevent the Pre from ever reaching consumers.

Thankfully, Palm seems to have the upper-hand. Engadget has a wonderful analysis of the iPhone’s actual IP—which, it turns out, is fairly limited—and also points out that the iPhone itself clearly violates quite a few Palm patents. After reading the article, I suspect no lawsuits will be filed; Palm would file a rather strong counter-suit, and the entire thing would just get settled out-of-court with a cross-licensing agreement.

The only remaining question is whether the Pre will actually make it worth using Sprint, arguably the weakest major cell network. Sadly, that’s largely out of Palm’s hands.