Patenting CPU instruction sets and $150 PCs

Via a blurb on ArsTechnica about a Chinese $150 PC, I’ve stumbled upon the Story of Lexra, a now out-of-business semiconductor IP provider. A few things in that article struck me as interesting, namely

  • You cannot patent an instruction set.
  • “You can patent designs and methods that are necessary to implement a particular unusual instruction that is part of the instruction set.
  • Guess what Intel has patents for MMX instructions on… Although this point is now moot, as AMD and Intel have cross-licensing agreements, it was an interesting way to stop AMD from offering “fully compatible” CPUs (which resulted in AMD offering 3Dnow).
  • “One interesting problem with the patent system is that one institution, the PTO, determines whether a patent is valid but a different institution, the courts, determine whether one infringes. It is entirely possible for the two institutions to interpret a patent differently and for either a non-infringer to be wrongly convicted or an infringer to get away with their crime.

Scary, isn’t it?

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