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.
The Lexra Story
2016-07-17 Hardware 7 Comments
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.
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
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.