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MicroUnity charges handset firms for infringement

Posted: 19 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:patent infringement? handset? processor? mobile system?

MicroUnity Systems Engineering has filed a suit March 16 alleging 22 handset companies including chip, system and service providers infringe 15 of its patents. The suit, one of the broadest in recent memory, in some cases seeks treble damages claiming willful infringement.

The suit names a Who's Who list of defendants including Acer, Apple, AT&T, Google, HTC, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Qualcomm Samsung, Sprint and Texas Instruments. MicroUnity alleges the infringing products include TI's OMAP-3 and -4 processors, Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, the Apple iPhone 3GS, Google Nexus One, Motorola Droid, Nokia N900 and Palm Pre handsets.

The suit comes just two weeks after Apple filed suit against HTC for patent infringement of the iPhone look-and-feel, triggering what some called a renewed patent war in mobile systems.

The patents all involve specific functions of general purpose or media processors including specific kinds of load, parallel, floating point and caching operations. The list of patents in the suit include U.S. Patent Numbers 5,737,547; 5,742,840; 5,794,061; 5,812,799; 6,006,318; 6,725,356; 7,213,131; 7,216,217; 7,260,708; 7,353,367; 7,509,366; 7,653,806; 7,660,972 and 7,660,973.

The suit appears to single out the processors that are alleged to use MicroUnity's patents as well as the handsets those chips are used in and the major carriers who sell those handsets.

MicroUnity was a hot startup in Silicon Valley from its founding in 1988 by John Moussouris, a former MIPS architect, until the mid- 90's. Its investors included a laundry list of top computer, consumer and cable companies such as Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Motorola and Time Warner.

The startup was working on a programmable media processor and associated software initially aimed at STBs and other systems. The company even developed a prototype fab in Silicon Valley so it could make its chips in a novel BiCMOS process.

However, MicroUnity's grand ambitions imploded before it was able to ship its products. It later transitioned into an intellectual property company selling off or licensing pieces of its technology, including proximity correction tools sold to ASML in 1999.

MicroUnity has ongoing suits against Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Intel and Sony naming some of the same patents.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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