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Intel Threatens To Revoke AMD's x86 License 476

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the toddlers-fighting-over-a-toy dept.
theraindog writes "AMD's former manufacturing division opened for business last week as GlobalFoundries, but the spin-off may run afoul of AMD's 2001 cross-licensing agreement with Intel. Indeed, Intel has formally accused AMD of violating the agreement, and threatened to terminate the company's licenses in 60 days if a resolution is not found. Intel contends that GlobalFoundries is not a subsidiary of AMD, and thus is not covered by the licensing agreement. AMD has fired back, insisting that it has done nothing wrong, and that Intel's threat constitutes a violation of the deal. At stake is not only AMD's ability to build processors that use Intel's x86 technology, but also Intel's ability to use AMD's x86-64 tech in its CPUs."
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Intel Threatens To Revoke AMD's x86 License

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  • Business as usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gUUU ... inus threevowels> on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:14PM (#27215809) Homepage Journal

    Intel and AMD like to squabble about licensing every few years. Probably in an attempt to broker a deal that is even more favorable than the last. They usually spend some time posturing in court, bare their claws a little, then settle with a new cross-licensing agreement. If Intel gets too pushy, the feds start staring at them REALLY hard. Which tends to make Intel fall in line.

    Strictly speaking, Intel's argument is pointless. Yes, their deal is with AMD. But AMD's foundry only manufactures the chips, it does not design them. (Unless I somehow misunderstood their fabless plan.) Since the fab creates the chips on behalf of AMD, the licensing is not violated.

    That's my 2 cents worth, anyway. I'm not a lawyer, but I doubt one would make many more comments without viewing the legalese between the two companies.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:25PM (#27216029) Homepage

      Strictly speaking, Intel's argument is pointless. Yes, their deal is with AMD. But AMD's foundry only manufactures the chips, it does not design them. (Unless I somehow misunderstood their fabless plan.) Since the fab creates the chips on behalf of AMD, the licensing is not violated.

      It may not be that easy. The Intel/AMD license agreement, for all its notoriety, is completely confidential and thus nobody knows exactly what is in it except for a small number of people at both companies. Despite that, it has long been suspected that part of the agreement is that AMD would not manufacture more than a certain % of its chips at a 3rd party fab, which FoundryCo -- wait, it's GlobalFoundries now, slightly less stupid name -- would almost certainly count as once fully spun off.

      Strictly speaking, though, nobody outside the upper echelons knows. The only thing I'm 100% certain of is that AMD thought about the cross-licensing agreement when they came up with the idea for spinning off the fabs, and would not have done it if they thought it would cost them their license. But of course companies can differ in their self-serving legal reasoning, and who knows maybe they knew they were taking a chance and felt that the global anti-trust inquiries and the threat of losing AMD64 licensing would keep Intel playing ball?

    • by 0xABADC0DA (867955) on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:40PM (#27217443)

      If Intel gets too pushy, the feds start staring at them REALLY hard. Which tends to make Intel fall in line.

      One remedy used in the past for monopolies is to take it's patents and trade secrets and place them in the public domain. Even if Intel were to win a complete victory, they could end up losing it all.

  • Fuzzy on x86 IP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:14PM (#27215811)
    Maybe I'm missing something, but how can the x86 architecture itself be subject to copyright? Isn't the protected property not the publicly documented instruction set, but the implementation thereof?
    • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:20PM (#27215921)
      Maybe I'm missing something, but how can the x86 architecture itself be subject to copyright? Isn't the protected property not the publicly documented instruction set, but the implementation thereof?

      I believe it's not the core x86 instructions, but rather all the various MMX and SSE extensions that have been tacked on in the past 10-15 years. And as mentioned in the summary, AMD's x64 extensions are at stake, too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by idontgno (624372)

      Not copyright. Patents. [cnet.com].

      In other words, Intel claims patents over much of the technology that makes an x86 an x86, and AMD agreed (back in 2001--the patent cross-licensing agreement that's in dispute in this issue). AMD could hardly walk away from the agreement now* and continue to manufacture x86-descended CPUs--their previous acceptance of the patents would be evidence against them in Intel's inevitable patent infringement suit.

      No, I Am Not A Lawyer. And I'm sure it's nuanced much more finely than this. B

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by forkazoo (138186)

      Maybe I'm missing something, but how can the x86 architecture itself be subject to copyright? Isn't the protected property not the publicly documented instruction set, but the implementation thereof?

      My understanding is that if you wanted to make a 286 clone designed from scratch, you would probably be in the clear. OTOH, if you want modern extensions like MMX, or even SSE/AMD64, then you need a license for the more modern variations. That said, the whole field is deeply complicated and unclear. Some part

  • More... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:14PM (#27215813) Homepage Journal

    ... stupid intellectual property bullshit.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:15PM (#27215847) Homepage Journal

    At stake is not only AMD's ability to build processors that use Intel's x86 technology, but also Intel's ability to use AMD's x86-64 tech in its CPUs."

    At stake is money and corporate posturing.

    This is just another day of corporate King Of The Hill.

  • by truthsearch (249536) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:18PM (#27215895) Homepage Journal

    Intel will definitely work this out. They're almost forced to license x86 to prevent being labeled a monopoly. Many believe the only reason they licensed it in the first place was to prevent legal action by the justice department. With a competitor making similar chips it's hard to claim they strong-arm computer manufacturers into using their products.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hemp (36945)

      The real reason for the licensing had nothing to do with the Judicial system.

      In order to bid on certain government/DOD contracts you are required to have a second source for most items. This to prevent all of the usual issues you normally get when dealing with a single source, namely they go out of business and you can't find them any more.

      By allowing AMD to license and manufacture, Intel was able to bid on more government contracts. This all occurred back in the 80's prior to Intel dominating the CPU fie

  • Old and busted = Mhz (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:19PM (#27215901)

    New hotness = Lawyers on retainer!

    I for one, will miss the Megahertz Myth race.. But hey, it might go crazy when AMD has a GPU as the Vector CPU in the computer, and Intel has to sell a 63-bit processor.

    I guess it will be exciting to watch new developments again.. Seems they've gotten a little to comfortable with each others positions lately..

  • It won't succeed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:21PM (#27215945)

    If Intel becomes the exclusive provider of x86 chips, they'll be smacked by the government with anti-trust litigation (Note: I did not say WHICH government, my fellow silly Americans). It was the same with Apple being the company Microsoft pointed to when it was hit with anti-trust. Intel is simply hoping that AMD is too fearful to engage in litigation, or risk folding the business, simply to expose Intel to government action -- they are betting that AMD simply accepts whatever monthly tribute is required by Intel, thus assuring it's continued irrelevance without being wholly dismissed out of the market. If AMD still had its balls, they'd call the bluff and tell Intel to go to hell -- because Intel needs AMD a lot more than they're letting on.

  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:25PM (#27216035) Journal

    ...but isn't that generally what a company that is in majority controlled by another company called?

    Also, would AMD really have been so short-sighted as to sign a cross-licensing agreement with Intel that wouldn't allow AMD to contract an unlicensed third party to fabricate AMD's designs under AMD's licenses as an agent of AMD?

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:36PM (#27216217) Homepage Journal

    Not trying to sound like a troll here, but x86 should have been retired decades ago. It designed in a totally different era and was never intended to scale well and its been a series of hacks to get it to do so. ( it was impossible to predict where we were going back then, the cpu industry was far too immature )

    Sure, they have done wonders keeping it moving, but its long since time to start over with a clean architecture.

    My preference would be MIPS or SPARC inspired, but thats just me, either way its time to move on/up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      Problem is, you would lose 50-70% of the existing computer market. Apple tried switching CPUs and in both cases needed massive hand-holding of customers, emulation and dedicated support from vendors. Sorry, but the Windows market doesn't have the same level of vendor committment.

      Sure, lots of major software vendors (think Symantec) would help out their customers and would have a new chip architecture supported from day 1. And if there were no other vendors out there, it would be a pain-free transiation.

    • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AcidPenguin9873 (911493) on Monday March 16, 2009 @06:53PM (#27218515)

      I wish Slashdotters would stop with the incessant "x86 sucks" mantra. You're all fools.

      There's plenty of crufty old instructions in the x86 ISA; no modern compilers generate them though, so no one cares that they're there. They take up a couple pages in the ISA manual I guess. The die area it takes to implement them is totally, completely insignificant. They're either in microcode (along with a bunch of other really useful instructions) or the hardware already exists for some other reason.

      There's plenty of crufty segmentation and weird ways of laying out memory and whatnot; no modern OS uses that though, so no one cares that it's there. And again with the ISA manuals and some transistors. And there's plenty of modern paging and flat memory models and whatnot too.

      AMD and Intel both know how to make good, fast, and (relatively) small hardware to decode variable-length x86 instructions. Yes, of course an x86 decoder is bigger (i.e. more expensive, more difficult to implement, etc.) than a RISC fixed-length decoder, but again, no one cares because we already know how to do it fast enough and cheap enough. Check out an x86 die photo sometime; most of it is cache. Probably about 1/50th is decoder.

      And CISC-style+variable-length instructions get you a smaller code footprint and thus better instruction cache utilization vs. what you'd get with a fixed-length instruction stream. Examples: common ops get shorter instructions, there are more flexible addressing modes, more flexible sources/dests within a single instruction, you get one x86 instruction (no more than 15 bytes) to do what would take multiple RISC-style instructions (probably more than 15 bytes).

      Sure there's the crufty x87 floating point stack. But there's also the shiny new SSE/SSE2/SSE3/whatever instructions, and modern compilers can exclusively use SSE/SSE2 to do the exact same thing (-mfpmath=sse does it in gcc). And again, die area for x87 FP stuff isn't a big deal since a lot of the hardware is shared with SSE.

      ISA extensions have been added to cover all the newfangled SIMD stuff and virtualization you can want. AMD64 covers 64-bit stuff. And 64-bit stuff gives you extra registers too (8 extra integer, 8 extra SSE for a total of 16 each), which is great and a nod to the large number of registers that RISC machines give you.

      In short, what the hell is everyone bitching about?

  • by foxalopex (522681) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:45PM (#27216351)
    Hmm, I wonder if the reason for this is Intel is scared of Globalfoundaries? If I'm not mistaken, the folks who bought the foundry from AMD are the same folks who are building in Dubai. You know the place where money flows like water and they're willing to waste billions to build custom islands? If that's the case, it is possible that AMD could be ramping up their production and process dramatically which would negate any gains Intel has. AMD also seems to have a more market friendly history with other companies than Intel has. Perhaps this is Intel's attempt to gain a monopoly before their ship sinks?
  • Stupid. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shads (4567) <<gro.sudahs> <ta> <sudahs>> on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:51PM (#27216473) Homepage Journal

    I personally think that's a damn stupid threat for Intel to make. AMD is arguably the only company that is preventing Intel from being broken up as a monopoly... you don't threaten to bury your only competition when you're nearly a monopoly. The various governments around the world aren't appreciative of that type of behavior. Unless they would like to be broken into dozens of pieces.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:56PM (#27216563)

    First of all, AMDs foundry probably is considered to have inherited the licence so I dont know if Intels claims really hold up.

    Its been a long time since the chip architecture and schematic of AMDs chips have been directly based on Intels, if they ever have been. The only thing they share is the instruction set. Instruction sets are basically a language or communication protocol and these should not be copyrightable, just as someone could not copyright HTML, IM protocols or English. Only an implementation of software of these can be copyrighted not the language itself.

    In my opinion, AMD does not need any licence to implement the ISA in the first place, just as a licence is not required to implement an SQL server or a computer language. Languages are simply not copywritable.

  • Bait and swtich (Score:5, Interesting)

    by olddotter (638430) on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:11PM (#27216881) Homepage

    This is probably just high stakes gambling. AMD has little to lose. (I say that as an AMD share holder looking at my $2.49 stock price.) Intel has more to lose if they have to redo the 64Bit code. According to the reading, if Intel wins, they get rid of AMD, and become a defacto monopoly having to face US and EU anti-trust regulators. If AMD wins, they get to go along as before and Intel can't sell 64-bit CPUs that people want.

    Basically I bet AMD's lawyers are saying "Go ahead make my day." Given the above even if Intel wins in court, they lose.

  • Bring back Alpha... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by argent (18001) <peter AT slashdo ... taronga DOT com> on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:25PM (#27217143) Homepage Journal

    If I recall correctly, both Intel and AMD have licensed Alpha technology from DEC-I-mean-Compaq-I-mean-HP. Maybe they could get together with a 64-bit architecture that actually works well.

  • Looks like we either choose ARM or PowerPC to replace X86 technology and run X86 programs via emulation.

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