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Pentium PC Vendors Face Chip Patent Suit

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."

That technology resides in Intel's Pentium microprocessor. Patriot is targeting the five systems vendors because they ship desktops and laptops equipped with the Intel chip. The patent at issue involves on-chip clocking technology.

However, Intel itself hasn't yet been sued by Patriot.

In the lastest legal manuever, Intel this past Wednesday moved to back the PC vendors by filing a motion in the Northern District of California seeking a court order stopping Patriot from suing any additional Intel customers.

"They had sued five of our customers," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "As we read [the suits], it became clear to us that our microprocessors don't infringe. So rather than wait for them to possibly sue us, we filed in the Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement."

"We don't believe our patents infringe," added Mulloy.

Patriot this morning fired back with a statement that "it will respond to legal action against the company by Intel and will continue to pursue actions against companies that are infringing on its patents."

That response could include filing an infringement counterclaim against Intel, Patriot president and CEO Jeff Wallin told internetnews.com.

Wallin added that his company has had settlement talks with all five of the vendors it has sued, but he wouldn't comment on specifics. (While Patriot had originally sued the five PC vendors separately, it recently moved to consolidate the suits in a single court.)

Patriot's legal actions began last summer, shortly after the company was awarded a patent for the way a microprocessor manages the operation of its clock, which controls its running speed. At the time, Patriot said in a statement that the patent "not only bolsters Patriot's licensable microprocessor IP portfolio, but further strengthens the company's patent rights."

Patriot has previously stated publicly that it is seeking to grow the revenues it receives from licensing its patents. In June, 2002, Patriot announced that it has received a $1 million investment from a group of investors led by Lincoln Ventures.

"This investment enables us to accelerate our business strategies of license enforcement . . . for our patented microprocessor technologies," Patriot's Wallin said in a statement at the time.

Today, Wallin reiterated that plan to internetnews.com. 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.



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