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Five PC Vendors Face Patent Lawsuit 337

Posted by timothy
from the up-periscope dept.
Combuchan writes "This article from internetnews.com caught my attention: While Linux lawsuits gobble up the IT community's mindshare, a lesser-known legal action is being fought seeking billions of dollars from five PC vendors. Patriot Scientific, a small, San Diego-based seller of embedded microprocessors for automotive and scientific applications, is suing Sony, Fujitu, Matsushita, Toshiba, and NEC, alleging infringement of a Patriot patent for what it calls 'fundamental microprocessor technology.'"
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Five PC Vendors Face Patent Lawsuit

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  • by filtur (724994)
    I guess suing is one way to make money, but not always the fastest.
  • by wmshub (25291) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:29AM (#8216941) Homepage Journal
    Look, who has the clout in congress to get the patent mess cleaned up? Big companies. Thus, the fastest way to clean it up, have big companies get harassed with expensive lawsuits like this. A lot. If Intel, Microsoft, IBM, etc., waste enough money fighting stupid patents (note - I know nothing about the Patriot patents, they may or may not be stupid), then you can bet that things will change.

    Just a thought. Of course, laws would probably change in a way that makes it harder for anobody to sue big companies, but leave it just as easy for big companies to patent "one click instead of two to buy an item" type idiocy, but we can hope, can't we?
    • Re:I doubt it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bastian (66383) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:42AM (#8217008)
      Considering that even all the huge companies have business models based around patents. At least, I assume they do, considering that IBM has ~25,000 active patents (Including a record of about 3,400 awarded in 2001), and numbers I've heard for other huge companies are also astronomical.

      To these companies, owning lots of patents on lots of sometimes crazy things is a way of protecting their turf and a good way of putting potential competitors out of business. If they try to tighten up U.S. patent law, they'll only be making their job harder. Besides, I imagine that the amount of money they lose off most these lawsuits is chicken-scratch compared to their coffers.
      • Re:I doubt it (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Felinoid (16872) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @11:49AM (#8218341) Homepage Journal
        At least, I assume they do, considering that IBM has ~25,000 active patents

        Don't assume anything. Companys like IBM file "defensive" patents all the time just to keep from being sued by little guys.

        About 75% of the patent nightmares we've seen lately are from the tech bubble where high end companys go down the toilet. The decades of defensive patents become the best hope for survival and a new wave of patent lawsutes washes over the landscape.

        I'm sure the surviving tech giants are sick and tired of not only having to file new patents but also for being sued by former giants who couldn't survive.
      • Re:I doubt it (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BuckaBooBob (635108)
        What needs to happen is these "Patent" companies loose big in a few lawsuits and go under.. So when a company does go out and try to "Inforce IP rights" Thier stock value plummets.. So it would leave nothing but well founded IP claims and heaven forbid Notices to companies when they start selling technology that has potential IP right infringement and get it all sorted out before the product with potential of IP infringement goes mainstream.

        Companies knowing that there is IP infringement taking place and n
    • by S.Lemmon (147743) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:44AM (#8217016) Homepage
      Yes, they'll change so only big companies can file stupid patents. :-)
    • by ajagci (737734) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:04AM (#8217088)
      For big companies, the current patent system is great: big companies have big patent portfolios that they cross-license. So, they don't generally have to worry about each other. That arrangement keeps new competitors out of the market. And patent application and prosecution costs are high enough that the number of stupid patents filed and prosecuted by small companies are negligible in comparison. Occasionally, something like this slips through. But by and large, stupid patents are filed by the big companies themselves and then cross-licensed in an arrangement that helps big companies.
      • The main vulnerability to which they leave themselves open is small upstarts like this: companies that aren't really producing anything other than patent infringement lawsuits, and thus don't have any incentive to cross-license. The large company usually has little choice but to either license the patent (if it looks like the cheaper option), or slug it out in court, hoping to drag the proceedings on long enough that the small party runs out of cash and drops it. Take Eolas [eolas.com] for example: Microsoft still have
    • I mean, don't you think it's possible that those companies really are infringing their patents?

      And anyway, why would big companies care? They have the legal resources to fight off bogus patent cases (just like the patent office intends), and the benifit probably outweighs the cost.

      That said, if patent law were changed, say to charge far more money and do more research it would be a huge benifit to large companies who could afford the filing fee. If patent law were scrapped totaly, it would be a big beni
  • Patriot? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by centralizati0n (714381) <tommy.yorkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:29AM (#8216945) Homepage Journal
    Had anyone else not heard about this company before today?
  • oh for fucks sake (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:30AM (#8216947)
    these guys are idiots. Here's the patent:

    San Diego, CA - August 7, 2003 - - Patriot Scientific Corporation (OTCBB:PTSC) developer of key microprocessor technologies and scalable Java solutions for mobile products, today announced that it has received an additional patent for fundamental microprocessor technology currently in widespread use. United States Patent #6,598,148 B1 has been granted for PTSC's variable speed clock acceleration technology for RISC and CISC processors. The patented technology not only bolsters PTSC's licensable microprocessor IP portfolio, but further strengthens the company's patent rights.

    Future patent grants are expected that will further expand PTSC's rights within these fundamental technologies.

    Jim Turley, editor of Silicon-Insider and previous editor of Microprocessor Report and a member of the company's Scientific Advisory Board, said, "After analyzing PTSC's patent, I'm certainly impressed with its range of coverage, basically representing the dominant means of accelerating internal microprocessor clock speeds."

    Jeff Wallin, president and CEO of PTSC stated, "This is an important patent grant as it further validates our early innovation of key processing technologies that are ensconced in our IP portfolio. It not only gives our customers an extra measure of certainty in terms of our virginity and the technology but it substantially strengthens the validity and scope of our patent enforcement efforts."

    Because of the breadth of the company's patent portfolio coupled with the size of the market benefiting from the company's protected technologies, the company is pursuing an intellectual property compliance program targeted at hundreds of companies using microprocessors with internal capabilities greater than 120 KHz. This is estimated to be in excess of a $200 billion market. Beatie and Osborn LLP, one of America's most prestigious law firms, represents the company's licensing and enforcement objectives.
  • by JessLeah (625838) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:30AM (#8216950)
    Does any company actually have a business plan that isn't based around suing people any more?
  • Prior art? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bastian (66383) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:30AM (#8216951)
    It says in the article that Patriot's patent was issued last summer.
    Pentium chips have been around since the mid-90's.
    Doesn't this make for a ridiculously clear case of prior art?
    • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

      by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:35AM (#8216968)
      When the patent is approved is not as important as when it was filed, which in this case appears to be 1998. Moves the date-to-beat back a little, but I don't think it's enough to save this joke of a patent.
      • Re:Prior art? (Score:3, Informative)

        by mabhatter654 (561290)
        but they cleaned up the submarine and lacheys patents about 99-2000. That was when the US patentents went from 3 years to file/17 years to 20 years total with 1 to file...the pentium & pentium 2 & 3 were all in sample production by the filing date...Even the athlon was sampleing to internal customers at that point...
    • by fm6 (162816) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:38AM (#8217175) Homepage Journal
      "Pentium" is just a brand name. Intel used to give its CPU numbers, but but you can't trademark those. So when it came time to name the sequel to the 80486, they ditched "80586" and went with "Pentium" (as in "penta- [reference.com]") instead. There have been at least three major upgrades since then, but a brand like "Pentium" is too valuable to sacrifice to linguistic correctness, so each upgrade has had a variation of the original name. The current one is "Pentium III".

      I don't know when the first Pentium came out with an on-chip clock, but that's probably not important anyway. I doubt if the patent is on the idea of an on-chip clock -- they can hardly claim to be the first people to have invented the concept of component integration! More likely they're claiming to have invented a design or manufacturing technique... oh well, might as well go look it up.

      Yup, here's the 1995 patent application [uspto.gov]. It's too complicated for me, but they seem be claiming that their design manages to produce a steady clock signal even as temperature fluctuations play holy hell with the oscillations that produce the clock signal. Assuming I haven't totally mangled the concept, and that they really did think of this first, that's a pretty significant invention. It's certainly not on the same level as these business-process and software patents that we all love to hate.

  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:32AM (#8216960)
    Why is it that they're suing Intel customers but not Intel itself... seems like they're afraid to go after somebody who might challenge them rather than settle...
    • Intel is actually being proactive in this situation. Patriot sys. is just trying to establish a weak case against relatively weaker companies. Plus system integrators are a lot less likely to be knowledgable regarding intel's patents (less equiped to deal with microprocessor details) than intel themselves.
      • by 13Echo (209846) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:52AM (#8217213) Homepage Journal
        I think that you guys are getting the wrong idea here. This is about CPUs geared for embedded application. All of the targets have their own RISC CPU products, or license CPU technology for their own products from other companies.

        Here are some examples.

        http://www.fme.fujitsu.com/products/micro/32bit/
        http://www.toshiba-electronics.com.hk/eng/system /3 /homepage2.htm
        http://siliconvalley.internet.com/ news/article.php /2212821
        http://www.necelam.com/microprocessors/i ndex.php?S ubject=Home

        Beyond these guys, there are even more companies that have similar products. Hitachi's Super-H line comes to mind.
    • by eclectro (227083) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:49AM (#8217203)
      Why is it that they're suing Intel customers but not Intel itself... seems like they're afraid to go after somebody who might challenge them rather than settle...

      Saying that Intel is an 800 pound gorilla is an understatement.

      They don't want to fight Intel because they know that Intel's breadth of microproccessor technology is staggering. Probably enough to break the patent, if not rub out the company with legal entanglements.

      This would be a good company for Intel to make an example of.
  • Patent info (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Amigori (177092) * <eefranklin718NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:33AM (#8216963) Homepage
    Its funny how they decided to go after Intel's clients and not Intel [intel.com] or even AMD [amd.com]. This is similar to suing the local car dealership over a manufacturing issue, which only the auto manufacturer would have control over. Intel isn't resting on its laurels with this case either, as they have filed "a motion in the Northern District of California seeking a court order stopping Patriot from suing any additional Intel customers."

    Here [uspto.gov] is the official patent from the USPTO. It was originally filed in 1998, but IC's have been around much longer than that, so I'm sure there's some prior art somewhere. This next quote could almost have come from the depths of the SCO complex:

    "'Our Main focus is the IP [intellectual property] business now,'" he [CEO Jeff Wallin] said."

    Kinda sounds like Rambus [rambus.com] and look where they've gone.

    Amigori

    • Re:Patent info (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cesspool (258640)
      From the state of their site, it looks like the company is still viable. It's an indictment of the US system that Rambus wasn't involuntarily dissolved and its officers punished, either by the courts or by their shareholders
    • Re:Patent info (Score:3, Informative)

      by rs79 (71822)
      Yeah well, Intel did the right thing at the right time. They giggled at the patent for about 8 seconds then filed for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. As soon as they can get this they can sit back, wave it and say "bogus!" whenever anybody mentions this silly patent.

      This should be non-news by, say, tuesday.

      IANAL. IAAP.

    • Re:Patent info (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dj245 (732906) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:38AM (#8217176) Homepage
      I find this chip case to be identical to the case Henry Ford fought off starting in 1903 and lasting to 1911 or so. He wouldn't pay for the expensive "Selden" patent, which didn't apply to the type of gasoline engine he was making anyway, and the Selden patent holders sued him, and then sued his customers to make them quit buying Ford cars. His customers, like you say, had nothing to do with it. But stupidity persists in lawsuits, even 100 years later.

      Obviously the Selden patentholders lost, as we have Ford Exploders and Ford Festivas in abundance today, but no Selden engines.

  • Assholes. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:36AM (#8216972)
    Although Patriot has plans to move forward with its 32-bit processors and application-specific integrated circuits, Wallin said that product revenues were currently "negligible."

    "Our main focus is the IP [intellectual property] business now," he said.


    They don't actually make anything. They are a perfect example of why patents should be abolished - consumers and manufacturers all loose because of higher prices that support legalized protection rackets run by these thugs.
  • by KillerHamster (645942) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:36AM (#8216977) Homepage

    Although Patriot has plans to move forward with its 32-bit processors and application-specific integrated circuits, Wallin said that product revenues were currently "negligible."

    "Our main focus is the IP [intellectual property] business now," he said.

    Gee, this really reminds me of someone... can't think of the name...

    • Re:Sound Familiar? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bigman (12384) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @10:40AM (#8217976) Homepage Journal
      This situation is just what real inventors need. This shows that patents do not automatically encourage advancement in technology - the main argument used to justify software and technology patents. I think that in order to enforce a patent the holder should have to show that thet where at least attempting to exploit it - and not merely squatting on the patent in order to sue when someone else puts their time and money into developing the idea. Sueing for IP rights when you are otherwise not actively using those rights to develop or bring to market a product (or raising funding to do the same) is morally wrong, and the governments of the world need to have this fact rammed down their throats until they take notice. *sigh* /rant
  • by filtur (724994) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:37AM (#8216978) Homepage
    Intel should outsource their legal team to a foreign country. Just imagine a team of high priced lawyers with heavy accents all using the wookie defense! They'd unstoppable!
  • The difference is, these guys are smart enough not to attack the gorilla. If they really had something, they'd name intel.
  • This is nuts. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mind21_98 (18647) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:41AM (#8217005) Homepage Journal
    I think what would help more than patent reform though is tort reform. For one, making the losing party pay is a start. Also, finding a way to reduce lawsuits or using arbitration more often will contribute significantly. Reforming the patent system would be nice too though.
    • Re:This is nuts. (Score:2, Redundant)

      by LostCluster (625375) *
      I don't know if loser pays changes much on these things. Afterall, if the SCO Group's claims on Linux are found to be worthless, the company has no other real assets left. They'd already be bankrupt, so where would the money to pay for all of the trouble they've caused come from?

      I think what this calls for is some way to pierce the shield of a company so that executives become criminally responsible personally for schemes this far out of bounds. Reckless use of the courts as a business plan should not be t
    • Re:This is nuts. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Qrlx (258924) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:59AM (#8217075) Homepage Journal
      if you make the losing party pay, you can pretty much guarantee that people like you or I will never, ever go up against a big corporation and their hordes of lawyers. If you lost, you'd be bankrupt.
      • if you make the losing party pay, you can pretty much guarantee that people like you or I will never, ever go up against a big corporation and their hordes of lawyers. If you lost, you'd be bankrupt.

        What diffrence would it make? The companies could counter-sue, and you'd go bankrupt trying to defend yourself.
      • Re:This is nuts. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by prockcore (543967) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @06:56AM (#8217470)
        if you make the losing party pay, you can pretty much guarantee that people like you or I will never, ever go up against a big corporation and their hordes of lawyers. If you lost, you'd be bankrupt.

        I think it should go like this:

        If you get sued by someone with a patent, and the patent is found to be invalid. The Patent Office should have to pay your legal fees, as well as other punitive damages.

        The Patent Office currently makes a lot of money granting patents, and it doesn't cost them at all if they grant stupid patents. They should be forced to pay financially for granting invalid patents.
        • Re:This is nuts. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Almost-Retired (637760) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @09:30AM (#8217781)
          If you get sued by someone with a patent, and the patent is found to be invalid. The Patent Office should have to pay your legal fees, as well as other punitive damages.

          Where do I sign up to vote for this? I'm gonna make sure that everyone in all the local cemetaries is also registered and votes for it.

          Seriously, this, if it weren't for the USTPO being paid for by taxpayer dollars in the first place, and therefore any punitive action against them translates directly to a punitive action against the public at large, while they are still insulated from the results of their usually brainless actions. This has got to stop, and do so without allowing politics into the picture.

          So the first step is to privatize the USTPO, making someone at the top responsible for the agencies continued financial viability, maybe even with jail time for a proven in the courts failure. If damages were against them for granting a bogus patent, you can bet your ass that efficient means of searching for prior art would be just a perl script away from reality.

          As it exists today, it appears that the USTPO has no real incentive to "waste time on all that folderol".

          So yes, I'm in favor of a large, smoking, hole in the ground where the present agency resides, but we also have a very very real need for something that actually works.

          We'd have to pay the top person well enough to make the job appealing even while holding that person punitively responsible for failures. That would go a long ways toward assuring that a granted patent in indeed a patentable idea, unclouded by any possible tainting by prior art.

          Fees for fileing a patent would of course have to go up, way up to the point that the only way I could afford to file one is if I sold 90% of myself to somebody in the VC business. As thats often the case today anyway, I don't see that as all that huge an impediment if the idea itself is a valid, patentable idea. That would make the VC people do some real investigations themselves, which cannot help but be a Good Thing(tm).

          There would of course have to be severe criminal penalties, including hard time in the federal ass pound for VC's who betrayed that trust by attempting to steal the idea after the inventor has revealed enough to them to generate their interest and help. The inventor deserves to be protected from such pond scum.
          • Re:This is nuts. (Score:3, Informative)

            by servoled (174239)
            Seriously, this, if it weren't for the USTPO being paid for by taxpayer dollars in the first place
            The USPTO is a self funded agency that uses no tax payer money at all. It's budget is made up of from fees collected from the filing of patent applications.
    • For one, making the losing party pay is a start.

      I think making the USPTO pay for at least part of the costs would be a better idea.
      Because then it wold be in their interest not to grant bogous patents.
  • by afidel (530433) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:43AM (#8217014)
    The claims enumerated in patent 6,598,148 describe nothing more than an SMP system where the cache ram takes up at least 51% of the core and where the clock is variable. This is nothing unique and any idiot trained in the arts would have seen it as a trivial invention (SMP, variable clock, and large caches have all existed for quite some time) and therefore not worthy of a patent. Furthermore I don't see where Intel or their clients could be violating it except for the speed throttling overheat protection in the P4 and family processors. I know it's been said many times before but as far as the IT industry is concerned the USPTO needs to be scrapped or seriously funded because the way things work now are NOT acceptable, it's too easy for a bogus, stupid, or overbroad patent to slip through.
    • I think where things are going wrong is that tech has becomed so complex that the USPTO is having a hard time determining what's a trivial patent anymore, and is just plain mailing it all in. Afterall, the USPTO is just a registry, their mistakes can be invalidated by a court.
    • by servoled (174239) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:56AM (#8217064)
      This is nothing unique and any idiot trained in the arts would have seen it as a trivial invention (SMP, variable clock, and large caches have all existed for quite some time) and therefore not worthy of a patent.
      Triviality is not considered in the tests for whether a patent is valid or not. Neither is whether all of the components in the invention separately existed. The two mains tests are whether the invention itself previously existed (in the form specified in the claims), or whether the invention would have been obvious in view of the existing prior art at the time the application was filed (or at the time of the earliest priority date).

      Note that the obvious requirement (as interpretted by the courts) has nothing to do with whether one thinks that the invention would have been obvious, but rather whether the prior art of record shows that it would have been obvious.
    • This is nothing unique and any idiot trained in the arts would have seen it as a trivial invention (SMP, variable clock, and large caches have all existed for quite some time) and therefore not worthy of a patent.

      The problem is, any idiot trained in the arts of microprocessor design could make a lot more money practicing their arts then working at the Patent Office. Although, maybe with Indian outsourcing things will change in a couple years...
  • As Per Usual.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by servoled (174239) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:48AM (#8217031)
    no patent numbers were given. Here is a list of microprocessor related patents assigned to Patriot Scientific:

    6,598,148 [uspto.gov] High performance microprocessor having variable speed system clock
    5,809,336 [uspto.gov] High performance microprocessor having variable speed system clock
    5,784,584 [uspto.gov] High performance microprocessor using instructions that operate within instruction groups
    5,659,703 [uspto.gov] Microprocessor system with hierarchical stack and method of operation

    All of these patents appear to be divisional patents of another patent:
    5,440,749 [uspto.gov] High performance, low cost microprocessor architecture
    which was filed in August of 1989 (for the most part, this date should be taken to be the effective priority date of all the above applications) and assigned to Nanotronics Corporation.

    Please remember that titles, abstracts, and descriptions from the patent mean nothing legally. The only section which has any legal weight is the claims, so please don't start complaining about old microprocessors as "prior art" unless they actually do the same thing as is stated in the claims.
  • They filed the patent in 1998 and were just granted it. The original Pentium was already out by that time, so I don't see how its design could be impacted, unless they are trying to say the patent covers something newly introduced with the P3/P4.

    I predict Intel will meet with grand success in their case.
    • I take that back - I predict 100% certainty for Intel. I couldn't even read the whole patent application. It was simply laughable. Anyone who knows anything about microprocessors should have recognized that what they had was done before AND not an idea that is patent-worthy.

      They basically patented an improvement upon the microprocessor, whereby the clock speed is variable, the pin count is low, and the processor has on-board DRAM controls.

      None of these things are new as of 1998, when the app was filed, an
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:50AM (#8217035)
    Interesting, all of the manufacturers "happened" to be major Japanese PC vendors, and they are sued by a company called "Patriot Scientific?" Is this some sort of retaliation acts for Pearl Harbor?
  • by ptudor (22537) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:51AM (#8217039) Homepage Journal
    Last Tuesday (2/3/4) the local daily newspaper had an article about Patriot.

    Patriot's provocative plan [signonsandiego.com]

  • PROFIT! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chadamir (665725) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @03:54AM (#8217049) Homepage
    I think that I have finally realized the missing part of this infamous formula:

    1. Do X
    2. ????
    3. Profit.

    The missing variable has been right in front of our eyes all along. It's sue everybody.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Does anyone notice that ALL 5 companies are originally from Japan?
    Coincidence?
  • chill, people (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dandelion_wine (625330) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:04AM (#8217087) Journal
    Seller sues vendors for microprocessor patent infringement. Not news.

    Seller wins lawsuit against vendors for microprocessor infringement. News.

    Let me know how it turns out.
    • Re:chill, people (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cranky_92109 (414726) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @12:19PM (#8218549)
      Ugh! I hate this head-in-the-sand attitude.

      Would you rather hear that a family member has been diagnosed with cancer or not find out until they die from it?

      This lawsuit is news and I'd rather know about it now when there is still a chance to express my opinion whether it matters or not.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:13AM (#8217115) Homepage
    I actually saw one of those once, back in the 1980s. Very cute. A dead end, but cute. More crunch power with fewer gates than anybody else. In the first implementation, divide didn't work right for odd divisors.

    Claim 1 does have some breadth. Arguably, though, this only covers systems with on-chip main memory (not cache) using more than half the real estate, some cache, and a variable-speed clock. Some microcontrollers fit those criteria, but they're not the most common ones. Bigger CPUs have off-chip memory, and low-end microcontrollers often have no cache system at all.

  • by utlemming (654269) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @04:40AM (#8217181) Homepage
    This case seems like an attempt to captalize on unproven claims. By chasing after the end-user who does not have knowledge of the internal workings of the chip, it seems predatory. If there was really a valid claim of infringment then Patriot should have chased down Intel, not the end-users. But I guess this is the Intellectual Property game, chase down people that cannot defend themselves and then make money. Isn't that what SCO is saying they are going to do? File suit against an end-user that does not have the money nor the means to be able to prove that there is no infringment and then they win? Or make it so expensive to fight the claims that they cave-in and pay? Personally I would love to see laws that state that you can not hunt down end-users unless the claim for infringment has been proven. And then I would like to see penalities for filing suit against an end-user when someone by-passed the vendor, and the claims are proven wrong. It amounts, (IANAL) in my mind, to perjury -- making false claims in court and hoping that nobody catches you. So on the off chance that there is a closet-techie Congressman reading (heck I'll settle for a member of staff), Congress needs to make sure that intellectual property suits are aimed at vendors first, so the claims can be proven instead of the end-users.

    Second, patents need to be tightened. Just because you come up with the idea of having a clock on the chip does not mean that someone else cannot come up with the a simular idea, but implemented in a different way, and make money.

    You know, I have tempted to apply for a patent where URL's are spoofed using the latest Microsoft exploit for IE where the %01 is used to hide the real location of a web address. Then I'll sue Microsoft for violating my idea that I "came up with" in high school or something.
  • It's pre-existing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 08, 2004 @05:01AM (#8217234)
    reading claim 1 of the patent -
    any single chip static microcontroller that incorporates a substantial amount of RAM on chip, has bufferred memory access, and can run at multiple clock speeds fits the description in this claim. I think some versions of Mitsubishi M16 Hitachi H8 had enough RAM to cover more than half the chip and existed as early as 1996. This patent probably is bogus.

    Claim 1:
    1. A microprocessor integrated circuit comprising:
    a program-controlled processing unit operative in accordance with a sequence of program instructions;
    a memory coupled to said processing unit and capable of storing information provided by said processing unit;
    a plurality of column latches coupled to the processing unit and the memory, wherein, during a read operation, a row of bits are read from the memory and stored in the column latch; and
    a variable speed system clock having an output coupled to said processing unit;
    said processing unit, said variable speed system clock, said plurality of column latches, and said memory fabricated on a single substrate, said memory using a greater area of said single substrate than said processing unit, said memory further using a majority of a total area of said single substrate.

  • by rock_climbing_guy (630276) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @06:21AM (#8217381) Journal
    "Our main focus is the IP [intellectual property] business now," he said.

    That explains it all. Translation: All we do is sue people.

  • by Bystander (227723) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @06:31AM (#8217402)

    Patent No. 6,598,148 [uspto.gov],
    appears to be a divisional patent from patent No. 5,982,231, filed in 1989. In summary, the invention describes a CPU using both stack and register-based instructions which interfaces directly to DRAM memory over 32 shared address and data lines. Memory accesses are minimized by using mainly stack-based instructions and accessing memory in fast page mode. The invention is designed to minimize cost, fitting just tens of thousands of transistors into a 44-pin package, while delivering approximately 20 MIPS performance. While none of the design elements by themselves are new or unique, the particular combination chosen seems to fit the definition of a real invention that was not in existence before 1989.

    The features which seem to relate to its claims of variable speed are the use of an on-board ring oscillator to drive the system clock, and memory cycle timing which automatically adjusts to the loading seen from attached memory devices. Using an on-board ring oscillator means that the system clock can be driven by a device built with process parameters identical to other devices on the chip. If CPU transistors are a little slow on a batch of chips, the ring oscillator transistors will be similarly slow and the chips will continue to work at a slower but reliable speed.

    It's just not clear to me how Patriot Scientific can claim that companies like Intel are infringing on their patent. Is it because Intel's products contain technology which also happens to appear in their invention, but which they themselves did not invent? None of the individual technologies used in the Patriot device originated with them, and it appears that only the specific combination of those technologies described in the patent application would have qualified it for approval. However, the patent claims are written in such a way as to seemingly describe a much broader range of CPU designs, many examples of which were certainly in existence before even the original patent application by Patriot was filed.

    I've seen it stated that the claims are the only important part of a patent. That seems to be the big problem with this particular patent. What happens when a legitimate invention is granted a patent with overly broad claims? Some patents are written with claims that include a range of claims, some very specific and some very broad, on the assumption that it's better to aim for as much as possible and settle for what you can get. This particular patent seems to have only broad claims. Does that make it easier or harder to try and overturn?

  • by Flyboy Connor (741764) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @07:44AM (#8217584)
    It just struck me that this lawsuit may have a single good effect coupled to it.

    Until now, the major corporations used patents mainly to keep the small guy out of the market, and by cross-licensing ensured that they didn't have to fear anything from each other. Here we have a firm that, by its own admission, lives by litigation. So offering them a cross-licensing deal doesn't work. A firm that holds just ONE key patent, but doesn't need that patent (and patents held by others) for its products, is immune to the cross-licensing snare, and can cause a whole lot of trouble for the big guys.

    I think that if a few more companies get into the litigation business this way, the molochs will start using their influence to get the patenting system overturned. Of course, the fact that Patriot is sueing Japanese firms and not American ones, may be an indication that they are afraid of exactly that. But I have no worries that IBM, Intel and their peers won't catch on.

  • Support FFII (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Elektroschock (659467) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @08:05AM (#8217620)
    This exampe shows how important it will be to create a more effcient patent system in the world.
    Economists are very critical about the patent system at large, but I believe the quality of patents has to improved, the quantitiy has to be reduced. A way to do so it to set high standards,

    But in the WIPO the lawyer community drafts extension to patentability. Patent law is not evil per se, but in dynamic industries it does not suit. Patents were never designed for services. In Europe FFII [ffii.org] and many other organisations were able to build a mature counter-force to the lawyer's lobby groups. However they are in the international and governmental institutions as experts and design their own patent law.

    How to get rid of bad patents? can therefore be translated to "How to create balance in patent legislation?". It makes little sense to hunt down trivial patents. The bugs are in the patent system and have to be fixed. Patent attorneys are not intrested in a working patent system.

    What to do?
    1. Get organized. there are several US organisation, but there is not real US movement.
    There is a very low-traffic US mailing list of FFII, JOIN [ffii.org].

    2. Support petitions such as http://www.noepatents.org
    3. Help to defend the European directive in Brussels (there will be a FFII conference in April [ffii.org])
    4. Provide content and opinion articles about patent inflation on the internet.
  • Cross licensing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Linus Sixpack (709619) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @08:28AM (#8217657) Journal
    The whole process is really bad.

    I'm not defending Patriot but I think the reason that you get litigation only companies going after big companies is created by the patent process.

    A small company with a few influential patents would be silly to try and stay in the technology business once they entered a legal dispute with a bigger company. If I have 2 patents and I sue you, I'm going to be counter sued and there are going to be patents I haven't considered that will force me to close my business. Bigger portfolios of patents will shut down active companies. Before you sue a bigger portfolio you have to shut down your own company to protect against countersuits.

    The system doesn't serve anyone but lawyers.
  • Easy to work around (Score:5, Interesting)

    by varkentje (116469) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @09:29AM (#8217779) Homepage
    The patent application is very specific about using a ring oscillator to control the processor clock. Most processors use PLL (phase locked loop) devices to control their clock frequency.

    Typically only asynchronous CPUs are clocked by free-running ring oscillators. Almost all CPUs on the market, including embedded CPUs, are synchronous designs and they come in fixed speed grades, which makes PLL clocking very attractive.

    Even with PLLs you can vary the clock speed, e.g. when you detect that the chip is too hot or when the work load is low the CPU clock can be scaled down in discrete steps.

    A ring oscillator provides a non-discrete (continue) frequency range, but on the downside its clock frequency is very unstable compared to PLLs, which is bad for synchronous designs.

    There is also prior art: the early MIPS processor implementations had a free running multiplier, which operated as fast as the silicon would allow, even though the rest of the CPU was clocked at a fixed frequency.

    In summary: this patent is not worth a lot.
  • by Cranky_92109 (414726) on Sunday February 08, 2004 @10:13AM (#8217889)
    I tried submitting this last week when I saw the article in the Union Tribune because the rhetoric coming from Patriot sounds disgustingly like the crap spewing from SCO.
    Here are some choice quotes from the article [signonsandiego.com]:

    "It would suggest that every PC manufactured after 1994 or 1995 is benefiting from this technology," Wallin said. As the company put it in a recent news release, "It is now time for Patriot Scientific and its shareholders to be properly remunerated."

    Wallin added, "This sounds terrible, but we intend to get around to everybody."

    Intel is taking action already. They have filed suit [signonsandiego.com] against Patriot to prevent Patriot from threatening them.

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