NEW YORK – Trident Microsystems, Inc., now armed with 2,000 patents related to video processing, has disclosed its intent to pursue license agreements with consumer OEMs and semiconductor companies for several of its motion estimation/motion compensation patents – essential to enhancing picture quality in LCD displays and doing frame rate conversions for emerging 3-D TV sets.
Consider this Trident’s opening salvo in the upcoming intellectual property negotiations with a number of consumer chip vendors.
However, Duane Northcutt, Trident’s CTO, stressed, “We have no intention to become a Rambus-like patent troll.” He added, “We want to let the world know that we are making some of these patents available.”
Northcutt claims that Trident now has “the world’s broadest and deepest IP portfolio in video processing.” He added, “We are now in the big leagues.”
Indeed, viewed historically, the name “Trident” is a misnomer; the new Trident is a whole different company hoping to play a whole different game.
In the 1990’s, Trident was once known as a modest graphic chip vendor for PC add-in cards. But after selling its graphics assets to Taiwan-based XGI Technology in 2003, Trident languished in obscurity until early this year, when it pulled off a complex acquisition deal with NXP Semiconductors’ consumer IC business units.
Trident’s new patent portfolio consists of an amalgamation of IPs acquired from Micronas (Trident acquired the consumer division of Micronas in April, 2009), NXP Semiconductors (Trident merged with NXP Semiconductors’ digital TV and set-top box product lines earlier this year), Conexant (NXP bought Conexant set-top box operation in April, 2008) and old Trident.
Paul Gray, director of European TV Research at DisplaySearch, called Trident’s description of its transcendent new identity “a fair claim.” The combination of Philips and Micronas “brings together two of the players with the longest history and deepest experience in TV ICs,” he said. Perhaps, he added, Trident now compares with “Sony and Panasonic, which have a similarly deep portfolio” with many years of in-house R&D in video processing.
But which essential IPs does Trident exactly own when it comes to motion estimation/motion compensation (MEMC)?
The basic technique goes back to late in the 1980’s when Philips invented flicker-free TVs, by increasing frame rates, for European CRTs running at 50Hz, said Trident’s Northcutt. The technology injected pixels in a frame which didn’t exist in a stream.
More specifically, the core technology, as Gray explained, is the ‘block search’ approach for determining which parts in a video stream are moving objects, then computing the motion vectors of these projects.
Gray called the technology “the fundamental engine underneath any frame-rate conversion system, and indeed much of video processing.” Gerard de Haan in the 1990’s working at Philips Research filed a series of patents on the basic technology, said Gray.
Meanwhile, Micronas licensed some of the fundamental patents, made a series of refinements in removing artifacts, and developed its own approach.
Gray said, “Trident is in the fortunate position of being able to compare two evolutions of the same technology.”