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MicroUnity was a major pioneer in the field of mediaprocessing. Unfortunately, it was ahead of its time and was killed by power and cost of media chips on the current process. Now its reduced to filing litigation against those who adopted similar designs on smaller processes.  (Source: MicroUnity)
Company is also suing Palm, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, LG, Qualcomm, Spring, and Texas Instruments

Apple's legal campaign against HTC has garnered a lot of attention.  It's widely perceived that Apple is trying to pick off smaller companies that make the Android handsets to kill the mobile operating system's momentum.  Apple's litigation centers around certain mobile hardware and interface patents Apple owns, such as a patent on mobile object oriented graphics, a patent on interrupt-based mobile processor undervolting, and a patent touch screen unlocking. 

Now Apple finds the tables have turned on it; a small company has filed suit against it, claiming that its devices infringe on a variety of hardware patents.  MicroUnity Systems Engineering is a small private company based in Santa Clara, California.  The company is adopting an equal opportunity approach, though, and is also suing 21 other companies, including Google, AT&T, Palm, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, LG, Qualcomm, Samsung, Spring, and Texas Instruments

The company may sound like a patent monger, but there's more to the story -- the firm actually was once home to some of the brightest engineering talent in the industry.  The company was founded by John Moussouris and Craig Hansen, two of the engineers who developed the now famous MIPS CPU microarchitecture.  The company functions primarily as a research and development firm and has a wealth of intellectual property.  In 2005 it received a $300M USD from Dell and Intel in a suit over some of its IP.  A similar suit against AMD and Sony over their GPUs was settled in 2007.

Microunity says that media processing technology inside handsets like the iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch, Motorola Droid, Palm Pre, Google Nexus One, and the Nokia N900 steals from its patented work.  MicroUnity says the 22 parties named in the suit violated the following patents it holds:

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,737,547, "System for Placing Entries of an Outstanding Processor Request into a Free Pool After the Request Is Accepted by a Corresponding Peripheral Device."

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,742,840, "General Purpose, Multiple Precision Parallel Operation, Programmable Media Processor."

  • U.S. Patent No. 5,794,061, "General Purpose, Multiple Precision Parallel Operation, Programmable Media Processor."

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,006,318 C1, "General Purpose, Dynamic Partitioning, Programmable Media Processor."

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,427,190, "Configurable Cache Allowing Cache-Type and Buffer-Type Access."

  • U.S. Patent No. 6,725,356 C1, "System with Wide Operand Architecture, and Method."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,213,131, "Programmable Processor and Method for Partitioned Group Element Selection Operation."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,216,217 B2, "Programmable Processor with Group Floating-Point Operations."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,260,708 B2, "Programmable Processor and Method for Partitioned Group Shift."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,353,367 B2, "System and Software for Catenated Group Shift Instruction."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,509,366 B2, "Multiplier Array Processing System with Enhanced Utilization at Lower Precision."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,653,806 B2, "Method and Apparatus for Performing Improved Group Floating-Point Operations."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,660,972 B2, "Method and Software for Partitioned Floating-Point Multiply-Add Operation."

  • U.S. Patent No. 7,660,973 B2, "System and Apparatus for Group Data Operations."

Microunity developed technology in a number of fields including semiconductor processing, system design, chip architecture, software algorithms -- a rarity in the industry.  The company pioneered the mediaprocessor business, but ultimately saw its designs flop as at the time they consumed to much power and were too expensive.

The company's overreaching history earned it the nickname 
MicroLunacy in Silicon Valley.  While it was responsible for much innovation the flop of its mediaprocessors sent it reeling into consolidation.  The staff shrunk to 200 engineers and the company's chief business (until the patent litigation launched) was to sell a CAD tool that it sold in 1999.

One cannot help but appreciate the irony in Apple's case, but it's also interesting to note that MicroUnity, once an ambitious pioneer, has been reduced to trying to make a living off litigation.  

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RE: Needs to stop
By Yaron on 3/23/2010 10:00:50 AM , Rating: 2
I agree that only companies that use their patents should be able to sue (whether it is hardware or software). However, limiting patent time to 3-5 years is too short. Should be more like 7 years.

RE: Needs to stop
By ZachDontScare on 3/23/2010 2:29:26 PM , Rating: 2
3 years for software, 5 years for hardware implementation of a process. The world just doesnt move as slowly as it did in the 1700's, and our system needs to account for that.

RE: Needs to stop
By porkpie on 3/23/2010 4:47:54 PM , Rating: 4
This is complete rubbish. In some markets, it can easily take 5 years to even bring a product to market. Cut the term down that radically, and you'll not only disincentivize research, but force many firms back into the "trade secret" dark ages...which hurts us all.

The patent protection period isn't the problem here. The only problem is patent inspectors who are granting "non-obvious" patents to applications who are clearly obvious in nature.

Change that, and it not only does it solve this problem, but cuts the bulk of issued patents down by a factor of least 50, making it far easier for existing firms to validate whether or not their innovation is already patented.

RE: Needs to stop
By Abrahmm on 3/23/2010 8:56:49 PM , Rating: 2
Software patents need to be completely eliminated. Great ideas in software development should be shared, not hoarded away, and developers shouldn't have to worry about their great solution to a problem being patented by someone else. Hardware patents I can understand to an extent, but software patents are ridiculous.

RE: Needs to stop
By rennya on 3/24/2010 4:57:28 AM , Rating: 2
Take a look at those list and you will realize that they are not software patents.

RE: Needs to stop
By FaaR on 3/23/2010 11:08:45 PM , Rating: 2
If it takes 5 years to get a product onto the market, and you're protected by patent rights for 5 years, well, then you're 5 years ahead of your competition in that regard. What are you complaining about? :D

Short patent durations is not a disincentive to anyone (other than patent squatters perhaps), the semiconductor market is there and it WILL be there regardless of length of patent rights; if you don't do research then someone else will, and they'll eat your slice of the market pie and you'll go out of business. Simple as that.

Stuff like giving for example Apple a patent for mobile this, and mobile that (this and that being existing and long-used concepts already) is just atrocious however. You shouldn't be able to patent an existing thing by tacking a "mobile" in front of it. It'd be like patenting a wheelbarrow with a cheese wheel...impractical for sure, and ultimately not a novel invention (as wheelbarrows with wheels made of other materials have existed for hundreds of years easily in one form or another), and the same is true for Apple's bogus patent on graphical user interfaces in mobile devices and whatnot.

RE: Needs to stop
By cochy on 3/24/2010 1:53:02 AM , Rating: 2
If it takes 5 years to get a product onto the market, and you're protected by patent rights for 5 years, well, then you're 5 years ahead of your competition in that regard. What are you complaining about? :D

How so? What stops me from infringing on your patent without letting anyone know. Then I can release same time as you in 5 years and be free and clear.

RE: Needs to stop
By KristopherKubicki on 3/23/2010 5:38:03 PM , Rating: 2
It takes 3-5 years just got obtain a patent

RE: Needs to stop
By tastyratz on 3/23/2010 9:01:03 PM , Rating: 2
Top patent on the list was filed in 1995. It may have taken them 3 years to be awarded the patent, but it took them 15 years to sue... That's a perfect example of patent squatting. These products are NOT in their first generation.

I agree maybe 3-5 years from date of patent filing with with another stipulation: If we add provisions for legal proceedings within 3-5 years of a competing companies first product announcement which utilizes technology infringing on said patent it will give them reasonable time to pursue any infringements.

Squatting like this hurts everyone.

RE: Needs to stop
By mmatis on 3/23/2010 11:11:59 PM , Rating: 2
Quite frankly, I'd much more support making patent and copyright protections the same. To me, patent items are FAR more beneficial that copyright items. If you have copyright in perpetuity, you ought to have patent in perpetuity as well. Or vice versa. Fix that FIRST!

RE: Needs to stop
By Samus on 3/24/2010 12:02:36 AM , Rating: 2
The real problem with the patent system is the companies that are sued for infringement often don't know they are infringing.

I doubt ANY of these companies being sued for infringing on ANY of those patents knew ANYTHING about Microunity or their IP.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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