RealTime IT News

Chipmaker Expands Patent Fight to 150

Patriot Scientific said it is adding more than 150 other IT companies to its original patent infringement fight against five PC vendors.

The San Diego-based firm sent letters last week warning of potential infringement of its U.S. Patent number 5,809,336. Patriot did not name names in its announcement, but it is widely expected that nearly every large IT company got a letter.

The company said it contacted the world's largest electronics firms in the semiconductor, communications equipment, computer hardware, electronic instruments, computer peripherals, scientific and technical instruments, computer storage, computer networks and office equipment business segments.

Things could get messy for chipmakers and computer vendors if Patriot wins its lawsuit. The 10-person company said microprocessors operating at speeds above 110 - 120 MHz are in violation of portions of its patent portfolio. From the time the patents were issued, Patriot estimates that more than $150 billion dollars worth of microprocessors have made use of its technology.

"The widespread use of U.S. 5,809,336 is becoming increasingly apparent across multiple industries," Patriot CTO Patrick Nunally said in a statement. "The mechanisms disclosed are essential to the operation of thousands of products. We believe that each of these violates PTSC's rights."

The legal actions began last summer, shortly after Patriot, which is known for its IGNITE family of 32-bit RISC microprocessors, 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."

Earlier this year, the company filed lawsuits against Sony, Fujitsu, Toshiba, NEC and Matsushita. The initial filings seek damages in excess of several hundred million dollars.

Following a preemptive legal measure by Intel , Patriot later added the No. 1 chipmaker to the suit. Intel and the others have refuted the claims.

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

But analysts reviewing the case suggest Patriot is hoping that companies will avoid lengthy litigation and not look too closely at its claims. Bruce Sustein, co-founder of IP law firm Bromberg and Sunstein, told internetnews.com that either way, Patriot has a long fight ahead of it.

"The odds of settling will increase as more information is released at the time of discovery; the prior art will be unveiled," Sustein said. "If it turns out that there is no good prior art because there is no way to validate it. Most litigations do settle, but getting litigation to settle can take a long time unless Patriot says 'we'll settle cheap' such as $200 to $300 thousand."

And even though the patents apply to chips, the choice to attack PC makers first is a classic strategy, according to Sustein.

"By going to further down the food chain, the bigger damages recovery should be figured on the finished goods," he said. "With patents, the strategy is that you want to start with the outside companies thinking that they will be willing to settle and then build your case."