October 11, 2006 3:55 PM PDT

Transmeta sues Intel for patent infringement

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Transmeta, the chip designer that once tried to take on Intel in the notebook market, is suing Intel for patent infringement.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Transmeta alleges that Intel violated 10 of its patents and that the intellectual property behind these patents is embodied in $100 billion worth of chips sold by Intel. The claim extends back to the P6 generation of chips, which includes the Pentium Pro and Pentium II, and forward to the latest Core 2 Duo processors.

The case was filed Wednesday in a U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

The patents relate to power efficiency. Transmeta alleges that Intel infringed on one of its patents when it inserted a technology called "enhanced SpeedStep" into its models, said John Horsely, Transmeta's general counsel. Enhanced SpeedStep essentially slows down a chip when not in use to cut power consumption.

Other patents relate to things like instruction scheduling and other microarchitecture issues. Transmeta's patents were filed over a 10-year period, starting in 1991 (which predates the Pentium Pro) and going through 2000. Horsely said the suit is not barred by the statute of limitations.

Transmeta was the first company to emphasize that power consumption was going to be a major headache for chip and computer makers. It claimed that its Crusoe processors would be able to run the same software as Intel chips, but gobble up less electricity, thus leading to longer battery life.

Although the company landed early deals with Sony and Fujitsu when Crusoe arrived in 2000, it did not live up to its goals. Crusoe's performance was middling, and Transmeta had several problems getting new versions out the door. Deals with Toshiba and others evaporated.

The chipmaker then went through several rounds of layoffs and changed its CEO three times before refashioning itself into an intellectual property firm last year.

Transmeta has regularly lost millions of dollars a year. Between January 1998 and June 2005, it posted accumulated losses of $635 million on revenue of $134 million.

Although the chips never sold well, Transmeta's ideas did spark Intel to look more closely at power consumption. Getting inspiration and patent infringement, however, are two separate things.

Intel, also based in Santa Clara, declined to comment, stating that it has not seen the complaint yet.

Unlike other x86 vendors, Transmeta never had a patent license from Intel. AMD or National Semiconductor, who made x86 chips at that time, did have a license. At the time, some expected Intel to file suit against Transmeta.

Horsely and Transmeta CEO Art Swift would not comment on whether the company would sue PC makers that incorporated Intel chips into their products. Horsely also declined to say whether Transmeta would sue AMD. That chipmaker has a license for "some" Transmeta technology, Horsely said.

Although Intel is one of the more prolific companies when it comes to obtaining patents, it has found itself a defendant in several intellectual property suits in the last few years. Most times, the cases have been started by companies that are struggling. Intergraph brought suits against Intel and ultimately settled for $675 million. Patriot Scientific, a chip company with only a few employees, has also sued Intel.

In addition, MicroUnity, a hot start-up in the late '80s that had dwindled to obscurity, sued Intel a few years ago. In 2005, Intel settled the case by paying MicroUnity $300 million.

See more CNET content tagged:
Transmeta Corp., Transmeta Crusoe, patent infringement, patent, intellectual property

14 comments

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Typical of the Silicon Valley these days
If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em.
Posted by ss_Whiplash (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Correction
Actually, its if you cant make money with your product, find someone who has a simular product and sue em for patent infringement.
Posted by tanis143 (122 comments )
Link Flag
typical
Why bother to invent anything yourself if you can easily steal it from the little guys and then run them out of business before they sue.
Posted by usa_tech_investor (6 comments )
Link Flag
Same company Linus Torvlad was working for
One more thing to consider is that this Transmeta
was the company that Linus Torvlad (mr Linux) was working for!
Just goes to show you how inherently bogus the Open Source is as a business when the so called main man behind Open Source could not pay the bills from Linux (Open Source) and instead had to get paid from this Transmeta outfit which was the most secretive of companies, used to burn their trash! And never had any successful products either.
Posted by caudio_roma (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lack of knowledge
First of all, the name is Linus Torvalds, not "Torvlad."

Second of all, he is not the "main man behind Open Source." He is the inventor of Linux, which is an Open Source project. Open Source is much larger than that.

I suggest you actually look these things up and read about them before making such innacurate statements.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
The Rambus business model?
Transmeta definitely has taken a queue from Rambus here. Start with some interesting but not particularly practical technology, use it to submarine some patents through, back-date everything to the first patent, LONG before the company actually thought up what the patent covers. Then, when your business fails due to the fact that it was never a practical design, give up on it in favor of lawsuits.
Posted by Hoser McMoose (182 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not the RAMBUS business model
I disagree with that point of view. Transmeta develops power management solutions for implementing the x86 architecture which Intel has brazenly stolen from Transmeta, hoping to bury Transmeta in the process. x86 achitecture itself is an industry standard instruction set that anyone can emulate as long as they don't infringe on patented implementation details. This idea of the instruction set as public-domain interface was famously pioneered in 1970's by Amdahl Corporation when it implemented the IBM 370 instruction set, and the tradition continues today with Advanced Micro Devices x86 chips, as well as Transmeta custom Efficions (FlexGo, etc.). AMD also pioneered the 64-bit extension to x86, which Intel eventually followed when Itantium was slow to gain acceptance. Intel had some VLWI work going on in EMEA, but never put power management together like Transmeta did until later. Intel finally woke up to power management as a limit to Moore's Law making it the theme of a 2005 Intel Developer's Forum. Intel was previewing Transmeta technology for possible licensing, but decided to simply steal the power management idea and gamble they would not be challenged. Transmeta has a very valid claim of infringement it seems.
Posted by usa_tech_investor (6 comments )
Link Flag
Pay them
its sad that Trans. is being compaired to Rambus.

I am not aware of Trans. being an influencal part of any standarization group unlike Rambus who was apart of group to establish standards without telling anyone about thier patents until after it was deployed.

At the end of the article it was stated that AMD has a licen to use thier tech.. That fact alone suggests that information about the patented tech was known out side of the company.

So if Intel used thier technology then Intel needs to pay them for it.
Posted by reustle (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hopefully this will finish them off
Seeing that they're an "intellectual property" company is enough
to draw suspicion.

Perhaps Intel could still file that lawsuit that was mentioned and
hopefully put the last nail in Transmeta's coffin.... Hopefully,
defending themselves vigorously could have the same effect.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Intel dirty tricks
..draw suspicion of what? What is the point being made?

Does Intel let their paid bashers work remotely from home, or must they report to a special cube farm where supervisors can monitor all the Internet traffic?
Posted by usa_tech_investor (6 comments )
Link Flag
 

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