A little-known microprocessor developer has been quietly amassing a patent portfolio that it now is bringing to bear with the hope of extracting licenses from systems companies.
Patriot Scientific Corp. (PTSC) this week announced it has been awarded an additional patent for a fundamental microprocessor technology widely applied in RISC and CISC processors: the use of clock multiplication to accelerate performance.
It's the third time in as many weeks that a small company has sought to boost its earnings potential by claiming ownership of a basic technology--the other two being Palmchip Corp. and ePlus Inc. But rather than go after its natural competitors--MPU core developers and chipmakers--PTSC is pursuing would-be customers.
The company last summer quietly launched a "patent compliance" campaign, seeking IP licenses from hundreds of systems companies in the commercial,
industrial, and military sectors that use microprocessors with internal capabilities greater than 120MHz, a market it sized in excess of $200 billion.
U.S. patent 6,598,148 B1, which was awarded last week, "substantially strengthens the validity and scope of our patent enforcement efforts," said Jeff Wallin, president and chief executive of PTSC, San Diego.
The aim, Wallin said, is to get companies to license its technology, not to do battle in court.
"We're trying to go about this in an upfront and noninvasive way," he said.
Wallin declined to identify any companies PTSC has targeted, but said efforts so far have not resulted in any licenses.
PTSC began life in 1987 as a defense contractor, but has more recently focused its developments on embedded microprocessors for commercial applications like smartcards and handheld and mobile wireless devices.
PTSC's flagship product, which was introduced in 1994, embodies the 6,598,148 B1 patent. Known as Ignite1, the chip is a low-cost, medium-performance, 32-bit RISC processor that is able to run both C and Java code without a co-processor.
Wallin described the architecture as a "uniquely modified stack," as opposed to the register-based structure common to most processors. It features single-cycle memory access, and uses fewer gates to achieve its performance level than competing devices, he said.
PTSC uses the technology contained in the patent to boost the processor's operating frequency while using a low-speed crystal. The result is a lower-cost, lower-power-consuming device that also creates less radio interference.
"It's very clever," said Jim Turley of Jim Turley Associates in Monterey, Calif., and a member of PTSC's scientific advisory board. "It seems to do stuff a lot of microprocessors either have or wish they had."
In 2001, PTSC began marketing a processor core based on the same technology, and IP licensing has since become its main business thrust. The company is working with a number of undisclosed ASIC and SoC companies in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
For the first nine months of fiscal 2003, the company registered revenue of $86,439 and a net loss of $2.86 million.
PTSC is one of more than a hundred 32-bit embedded-processor developers, according to Turley.
As a small company, there's a question of how much legal muscle PTSC could bring to enforcing its IP. However, even the most powerful chip companies have grown weary of drawn-out legal battles that can cost more to litigate than it would be worth in royalties or a settlement fee, according to Turley.
"You don't necessarily have to outspend your foes on something like this," he said. "The cynical view is, you can always find someone that will just agree to pay up and be done with it," he said. "Then again, there are others that will fight vociferously."