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Japanese Professor Sues Intel For Infringing Patent Involving FPGAs, SoCs

FPGA
FPGA (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Law Street Media (opens in new tab) reported that Japanese professor Masahiro Iida had sued (opens in new tab) Intel for infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,812,737. The complaint accuses Intel of manufacturing, using, and selling Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) and System-on-Chip (SoC) chips that employ Adaptive Logic Modules (ALM), a patent that Iida has held from 2004 to 2014.

When Iida was a doctoral student back in 2001, he had discovered a method to configure large look up tables (LUTs) so that a single M-input N-output LUT can operate as a single “whole” LUT or as a group of “fractured” LUTs. His discovery reportedly helped substantially reduce the implementation area and power consumption for chips that leveraged the innovation.

Iida filed for a patent application on June 29, 2001, and consequently did so in the United States on June 28, 2002. As a result, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued the '737 patent (opens in new tab) entitled “programmable logic circuit device having to look up table enabling to reduce implementation area” to Iida on November 2, 2004, which he has been the sole owner since then until October 1, 2014.

Altera and Xilinx are two the big players in the FPGA market. Intel bought Altera for $16.7 billion in 2015, and AMD consequently acquired Xilinx for $54 billion this year. Iida’s complaint pertains to Altera’s Stratix II line of FPGA chips launched in 2004 using ALMs. The company continued to utilize ALMs in its subsequent Stratix chips, including the Stratix III, Stratix IV, Stratix V, and Stratix 10, and in some of its other Arria and Cyclone product lines. After the Altera acquisition, Intel continued to manufacture and commercialize the Stratix, Arria, and Cyclone lineups. In addition, the chipmaker’s Agilex chips also utilize ALMs.

According to the filing, Intel may have benefited significantly from the products, with up to 80% of its annual revenues coming from selling FPGA and SoC that used ALMs. The filing estimated at least $11.5 billion from sales of the accused products over six years (Q3 2016 to 2022).

Professor Iida’s counsel sent a certified letter to Intel’s General Counsel concerning the ’737 patent infringement. Intel has infringed at least claim 1 of the ’737 patent. Despite the plaintiff’s notice, Intel continued to make, offer to sell and sell the accused FPGA chips without a license from Iida.

Iida is looking for monetary compensation equal to or greater than a reasonable royalty that he should have received if Intel had licensed his patent. He also requested that the Court grant him up to three times that amount found by the jury for Intel’s infringement pursuant and his attorney’s fees.

Zhiye Liu
Zhiye Liu

Zhiye Liu is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Although he loves everything that’s hardware, he has a soft spot for CPUs, GPUs, and RAM.

  • spentshells
    sounds like he deserves it
    Reply
  • Geef
    Sadly this is one of those stories where we will probably never hear anything about it ever again. Intel will make an agreement with a NDA attached and throw the guy a bone.

    The end.
    Reply
  • derekullo
    Did he recently come out of his coma in 2022?

    If some one blatantly uses your patent and you don't file an infringement lawsuit within six years of the date of the alleged infringement you aren't able to recover any money.

    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-long-do-i-have-in-which-to-sue-for-patent-infringement.html
    Very convenient he waits to the nearly 6 year mark before making a complaint if he is claiming it started in 2016 Q3.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    This isn't much of a discovery: he basically patented wrapping a bunch of smaller LUTs in mux/selector logic.

    derekullo said:
    Very convenient he waits to the nearly 6 year mark before making a complaint if he is claiming it started in 2016 Q3.
    The patent was awarded in 2004. That's 18 years ago.

    Xilinx and Altera have been using 6-inputs LUTs that can be configured between a handful of memory configuration and predefined functions since 2008. Shouldn't have taken him 14 years from infringement to sue. Maybe he gave up going after Xilinx and Altera, then decided to have another go at it once they got gobbled up by AMD and Intel.
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    I hope he gets buried with legal costs once he loses.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    InvalidError said:
    Xilinx and Altera have been using 6-inputs LUTs that can be configured between a handful of memory configuration and predefined functions since 2008. Shouldn't have taken him 14 years from infringement to sue.
    Maybe the original deal with xilinx altera was for an exclusive non-transferable patent.
    Intel bought altera in 2016, so 6 years not 14.
    Reply
  • KyaraM
    TerryLaze said:
    Maybe the original deal with xilinx altera was for an exclusive non-transferable patent.
    Intel bought altera in 2016, so 6 years not 14.

    He held the patent until 2014, and they bought the company in 2016. That's a two-year lag in which any chip developed would not fall under his claim. If they held an agreement, then any new chip with his design after Intel bought the company would have been long out of his claim. Also, in a case like that, you approach the company immediately for renegotiations if you do have a valid claim, not wait 6 or more years for it. This here is kinda scummy.


    Also, no original deal mentioned, though there likely was one. Else, it makes even less sense to sue now and won't bear any fruit, either.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    KyaraM said:
    He held the patent until 2014, and they bought the company in 2016. That's a two-year lag in which any chip developed would not fall under his claim. If they held an agreement, then any new chip with his design after Intel bought the company would have been long out of his claim. Also, in a case like that, you approach the company immediately for renegotiations if you do have a valid claim, not wait 6 or more years for it. This here is kinda scummy.


    Also, no original deal mentioned, though there likely was one. Else, it makes even less sense to sue now and won't bear any fruit, either.
    If you follow the links to the actual lawsuit .pdf it does say that the patent is still in his possession.
    https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/Texas_Western_District_Court/6--22-cv-00662/Professor_Masahiro_Iida_v._Intel_Corporation/1/
    36. Since October 1, 2014, Professor Iida has been, and is presently, the sole owner of all right, title, and interest in the ’737 patent.
    Reply
  • KyaraM
    TerryLaze said:
    If you follow the links to the actual lawsuit .pdf it does say that the patent is still in his possession.
    https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/Texas_Western_District_Court/6--22-cv-00662/Professor_Masahiro_Iida_v._Intel_Corporation/1/
    Then the point still stands. Why only sue literally days before the patent expires, instead of the start of the infringement? Not as if Intel buying another company is a huge secret that only came to light now. It's a pretty dickish move in my book.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    KyaraM said:
    Then the point still stands. Why only sue literally days before the patent expires, instead of the start of the infringement? Not as if Intel buying another company is a huge secret that only came to light now. It's a pretty dickish move in my book.
    And if he tries to claim he didn't know about the infringement until now, AMD, Intel, etc. can simply point to their FPGA designers' guides which detail their logic slice/block/whatever in relatively exhaustive details, which would make their use of LUT-6 with a bunch of alternative configuration options one of the worst kept secrets ever.

    With only two major FPGA manufacturers and three significant others, it ain't like he can claim there were too many of them out there for him to realistically keep up with the market either.
    Reply