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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 Lerianis on 3/23/2010 12:09:50 PM , Rating: 2
These guys are NOT an 'innovator'. If the thing in question 'flopped', then it's obvious that they were just sitting on their parent, HOPING that someone in the future would infringe on it.

It's time to limit patent terms to 1 year, renewable for up to 5 times... if you haven't made your money on a product in 5 years, you aren't going to make any money off it!

RE: Needs to stop
By omnicronx on 3/23/2010 12:50:58 PM , Rating: 2
Yes.. because success is a requisite of innovation..

The patent system needs reform, but its more in terms of refining the rules in which these companies obtain these patents, not necessarily the term. Technology can take a while to develop, putting a low limit could stifle innovation as companies will not see any value in long term projects.

As long as a company actually attempts to do something with their IP, I have no problem. If its a flop, its a flop, that does not mean other companies wishing to use the technology does not have to license it.. This way an initial investment is required, i.e adding risk to the venture. Merely patenting an idea and sitting on it has no such risk, and as such is far more likely to be taken advantage of.

As I said, its how the patents are awarded that is the problem, this 'accept all and let the courts decide later' attitude is what has got us into trouble in the first place.

RE: Needs to stop
By adiposity on 3/23/2010 4:42:49 PM , Rating: 4
These guys are NOT an 'innovator'. If the thing in question 'flopped', then it's obvious that they were just sitting on their parent, HOPING that someone in the future would infringe on it.

If they used their patented method to make an unsuccessful product, that should give everyone else the right to incorporate their idea in other products? Doesn't it make more sense that other companies should say, "well, it seems you can't make any money trying to sell your product. maybe we can license the tech. from you and put it in OUR product, which is already successful"?

Personally, I don't like software patents, and hardware patents are often questionable as well. But I don't see why you should be able to just use someone's idea because they failed to make money on it. Shouldn't they get something if you can use their idea to your advantage?

RE: Needs to stop
By Solandri on 3/23/2010 5:37:49 PM , Rating: 3
These guys are NOT an 'innovator'. If the thing in question 'flopped', then it's obvious that they were just sitting on their parent, HOPING that someone in the future would infringe on it.

Most things that flop do so because of poor marketing or poor business practices, not because the product or innovation is bad. Having to fundraise to start production usually requires you have a working prototype to demonstrate to potential investors. That's pretty good at filtering out bad ideas.

Also, a lot of inventions find applications in fields totally unrelated to their original intended purpose. Post-it notes started with a researcher at 3M trying to develop a better adhesive. He cooked up a batch which had distinctly sub-par adhesion characteristics and shelved it. In its intended field, it was a failure.

He then tried to market it as a spray adhesive for things like bulletin boards, where removing staples and and tape is a pain, and a weaker adhesive would actually be an advantage. That idea flopped too.

The Post-it note as we know it today took off when a co-worker was frustrated trying to keep a bookmark in place in an open hymn book. He got wind of the invention in an intra-company presentation. The two met up, put the adhesive on a small bit of paper, and gave it to their secretaries to try out. They couldn't get enough of the things, and a great invention was born.

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