Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 17th Jul 2016 22:24 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

I worked for Lexra, a scrappy CPU company, now out of business. The Lexra story is filled with lessons about the business of selling microprocessors and semiconductor intellectual property. I have found many incorrect statements published about Lexra. I hope to set the record straight.

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by Treza on Mon 18th Jul 2016 02:05 UTC
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This is an interesting first hand report from the Lexra story.

I had already heard about Lexra, how they sold low-end MIPS cores, how they were put off business by MIPS because of patents and aggressive anticompetitive practices, and how it eventually helped ARM which could offer a wide range of CPU cores.

(And the ARMv7 ISA is a bit better than the old MIPS)

There is a lesson in that : Using patents against companies that actually help you make your technology widely used is very stupid when you have direct competitors.

Reply Score: 4

by kurkosdr on Mon 18th Jul 2016 15:30 UTC
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So, the company was basically sued to oblivion.

Being a technology company in the US is a risky proposition. Among omnipotent content cartels (like Viacom trying to shut down YouTube because it "goes to a competitor"), to weird "anti-circumvention" provisions, to judges in East Texas rubber-stamping silly patents owned by NPEs and to judges broadly interpreting patens, you are one lawsuit away from losing everything.

Which is the reason computers are slowly slipping away from the USA's grip, despite the digital computer being practically invented and put into civilian use mainly in the US.

At least if you are a foreign company and some East Texas judge prevents you from importing your stuff to the US, you can keep selling to other countries while you design around the patent. But if you make your stuff in the US, you lose everything.

Edited 2016-07-18 15:31 UTC

Reply Score: 6

Interesting story
by Alfman on Mon 18th Jul 2016 17:14 UTC
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Silicon Graphics spun-out MIPS Technologies, Inc. as a semiconductor intellectual property licensing company that would compete directly with Lexra after Lexra was already established in that business. Due to a single deal between Silicon Graphics and Nintendo, MIPS Technologies Inc. began its life with approximately ten times as much money as Lexra. MIPS Technologies also had about five times as many engineers as Lexra.

Cores from Lexra as compared to cores from MIPS Technologies were smaller, had higher clock speed, had high performance instruction extensions, brought features (such as on-chip debug, MIPS16, write-back caches, MMU, and more) to market earlier, and were less expensive.

I'd never heard of Lexra, but none of this is the least surprising, at least in hindsight. Patents will mostly benefit the larger companies with superior legal departments, just because. It doesn't matter if it's unfair. It doesn't matter if you have the better product, litigation can take that all away. It doesn't even matter if your product doesn't reasonably infringe or if their patents are both obvious and non-novel - the courts are stupid and good lawyers will be able to exploit that.

Many small businesses fall victim to the US patent system. But I find it ironic that Lexra themselves were a pure IP company without a tangible product. They themselves must have been highly dependent on the same laws that ended up taking them under.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Interesting story
by Vanders on Mon 18th Jul 2016 18:04 UTC in reply to "Interesting story"
Vanders Member since:

It seems odd, though, that Lexra didn't hold any patents on aspects of MIPS themselves. They clearly innovated in the field, so must have had some novel inventions that they could have patented.

Perhaps they figured as MIPS came out of an educational institute and was an "Open" system it would always continue to be that way and everyone would work together?

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Interesting story
by tylerdurden on Mon 18th Jul 2016 21:35 UTC in reply to "RE: Interesting story"
tylerdurden Member since:

Regardless of their academic origins, MIPS had been in the fabless IP processor design selling game for over a decade by the time Lexra was founded. In fact MIPS predates ARM in terms of the whole fabless IP-centric business model.

The story seems rather biased and fairly revisionist IMHO.

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Interesting times...
by dionicio on Mon 18th Jul 2016 20:25 UTC
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Maybe I could sue anybody looking like me, and force him to plastic surgery. What would be my sue request if somebody thinking like me?

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Nations of Titans...
by dionicio on Mon 18th Jul 2016 20:29 UTC in reply to "Interesting times..."
dionicio Member since:

With 'patent' clay foot. Wonder if this is a right path.

Reply Score: 2