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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 Brainonska511 on 3/23/2010 11:02:37 AM , Rating: 2
So if I have an idea and manage to get it patented, but then don't have the money to develop it further or deploy it, I should get screwed and just let others come along and use my idea for free?

RE: Needs to stop
By Harinezumi on 3/23/2010 11:22:32 AM , Rating: 5
Use it or lose it. It doesn't help anyone if you just sit on the idea for a number of years, and then sue anyone who managed to come up with a similar solution to the same problem.

RE: Needs to stop
By AlexWade on 3/23/2010 2:51:04 PM , Rating: 2
What is really needed is different rules for companies than for individuals. If I, as a person, patent an idea, the patent should last a lot longer because I will not have the resources to produce a product based on my idea. However, if a company patents an idea, the patent should have a short time frame and, what is more, have an even shorter time to sue to patent infringement once the idea is being implemented.

RE: Needs to stop
By rudy on 3/23/2010 4:15:47 PM , Rating: 2
It is a bad idea to hold different rules for different groups because everyone from the disadvantaged group will just loophole to the advantaged group. Such is the case in the US where most of our biotech research is falling apart in industry becaue there are so many lighter rules and prices for academic institutions. Now companies are becoming just the sales vehicle. It's either outsource foriegn or to academics.

Also look at the car industry where all the major car makers are dropping their high end sports cars because they drag down the feul economy but small companies are not held to the same standards so performance cars are all being forced to only small companies and sold off from large companies.

RE: Needs to stop
By kroker on 3/23/2010 11:54:35 AM , Rating: 5
An idea is a dime a dozen. It's very unlikely you were the first one to think of it in the first place, just the first one to patent it. And even if you were the first to think of it, it's very unlikely that someone else wouldn't be able to come up with the same idea later on, when they need it to solve a particular problem.

The idea is the easy part. Doing the heavy work & putting the money to build something out of it is what's hard. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. If you can't take your idea any further than a concept on paper, then it's useless to everyone and you should let others implement it. If you're so paranoid of others "stealing" your idea, then don't patent it at all and don't tell anyone about it, until you have the resources to use it; and if someone else has the same idea in the meantime and also has enough money to implement it and build something useful for all of us, then tough luck for you. Because it's not really about you, it's about all of us. The patent system sole purpose should be simply to encourage inventors so they can build inventions useful for all of us, not just for them!

Each and every day you are enjoying inventions built from other people's ideas without paying them. You may not think about it, but the very idea for which you require compensation was build on countless other people's ideas, are you paying them for their part in "your work"?

I think Michael Abrash said it best in Graphics Programming Black Book. He talked about people claiming to have an idea and asking to be paid for it while letting others do the heavy work to actually implement it, but so far I could only find this quote on Google:

"None of us learn in a vacuum; we all stand on the shoulders of giants such as Wirth and Knuth and thousands of others. Lend your shoulders to building the future!" - Michael Abrash

RE: Needs to stop
By AMDJunkie on 3/23/2010 3:05:40 PM , Rating: 2
An idea is a dime a dozen. It's very unlikely you were the first one to think of it in the first place, just the first one to patent it. And even if you were the first to think of it, it's very unlikely that someone else wouldn't be able to come up with the same idea later on, when they need it to solve a particular problem.

So why even have a patent system in the first place?

RE: Needs to stop
By someguy123 on 3/23/2010 3:55:37 PM , Rating: 3
So that people can protect their work while working on it?

Right now the system is being abused by patent trolls who just patent everything and squat waiting for larger corporations to develop something similar so that they can sue.

If you don't have the resources to create your invention, why patent it in the first place? You're just giving away your information to the world for no reason.

RE: Needs to stop
By kroker on 3/23/2010 7:33:45 PM , Rating: 2
To encourage inventors to find solutions for hard to solve problems, things that aren't just an idea or solution that you happened to stumble upon, but a breakthrough that requires considerable amounts of time and energy to solve. I think this should be the requirement for patents. Instead, the patent office will award a patent to anyone if the patent sounds just a little more complicated than trivial and it's not apparent to them that someone else uses a similar idea/solution.

I am sorry if I came off as anti-patents there, they do have their place, it's just the patent system is abused heavily and in its current state, it's just a mine-field for other inventors/developers, which defeats its purpose.

People had the idea of flight using a winged device for a very long time, but it was very hard to come up with a working solution. Why should inventors spend the time to look for solutions if someone else will just steal it in the end? So they should patent their breaktrough and be allowed to profit from it. But they shouldn't be able to patent just the first (flight using a winged device), only the breaktrough solution. Otherwise, you'd just stand in the way of more skilled inventors for no reason, and in the way of progress.

RE: Needs to stop
By foolsgambit11 on 3/24/2010 4:25:48 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. In the US, the reason for patent law is written into the Constitution - "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts". If the current patent system stands in the way of that, it needs reform. Although, I'm not so sure it does - after all, science and the useful arts are progressing pretty rapidly at the moment. That doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be reformed, just that it isn't so broken as to be unconstitutional at the moment.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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