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by Mike Zazaian October 12, 2006 - 1:04pm, 3 Comments

Transmeta Sues Intel Over $100 Billion in Chips

Defunct processor manufacturer Transmeta is suing Intel over 10 energy efficiency patents that it claims to have originated, and were used in over $100 Billion worth of Intel’s chips.

The case, which was filed in a U.S. district court in Delaware on Wednesday, claims that Intel has infringed on as many as ten of Transmeta’s patents, all of which relate to processor technologies. The primary claim alleges that Intel’s use of Enhanced SpeedStep Technology borrows directly from a similar technology that Transmeta used in a number of its own processors. Intel has included SpeedStep, which lowers a processor’s power consumption when not under heavy use, on virtually all of its processors since the advent of the Pentium Pro in the early nineties. The other allegedly violated patents cover such technologies as instruction scheduling and microarchitecture configuration. Intel declined to comment on the matter, stating that it had not yet seen the claim.

Transmeta began filing the patents in question in 1991, predating even the Pentium Pro processor. Transmeta was in fact the first processor manufacturer to stress the importance of energy consumption, but was not able to capitalize with their own line of Crusoe processors. After signing deals that put Crusoe processors in Sony and Fujitsu notebooks in 2000, Transmeta wasn’t able to keep up with the processors from competitors Intel and AMD, and soon abandoned its processor production.

After a respectable showing through the early and mid nineties, Transmeta posted losses of $635 million between January of 1998 and June of 2005. The substantial losses prompted a number of layoffs and three CEO changes before reinventing itself as an intellectual property firm last year. That fact alone may be enough to send up some red flags about the suit, and Transmeta is now strictly in the business of suing people over intellectual property matters.

And while Intel may well have been inspired by Transmeta’s attempts to lower power consumption in its processors, Transmeta can’t hold a patent on the very notion of processor energy efficiency. Enhanced SpeedStep was a different technology on a different chip with a different architecture, and the case seems to be little more than Transmeta looking to recover some of the enormous losses that its incurred over the past eight years of its existence. That said, a company called MicroUnity, which had dwindled into a similar obscurity as Transmeta’s, won a $300 million settlement from Intel in 2005 over a similar matter.

[via cnet]