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SGI Sues ATI for Patent Infringement 283

Ynsats writes "The Register is reporting that SGI is filing suit against ATI for patent infringement. The suit alleges that ATI violated patent number 6,650,327, "Display system having floating point rasterization and floating point framebuffering", which was filed in 1998 and granted in 2003, in its Radeon graphics cards. This is coming fast on the heels of AMD's announcement of the intention to buy ATI for $4.2B and it doesn't seem to be swaying AMD's intentions. AMD hopes to finish the takeover by the end of this year. SGI has also issued an ominous statement stating that they have plenty of intellectual property left and there will be more litigation to come."
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SGI Sues ATI for Patent Infringement

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  • by Ryu2 ( 89645 ) * on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @08:48AM (#16575984) Homepage Journal
    If you can't beat them, sue them...
    • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @08:56AM (#16576092) Journal
      The difference here is that SGI really did invent a lot of things, and their patents are probably valid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Like he said, if you can't beat them, sue them. ("Valid" patents or not, they are still resorting to litigation-as-business-model like any dying company in the US does.)
        • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @03:59PM (#16583616)
          SGI still has viable products. This is actual protection of its intellectual property in the one area that it has always (rightly) prided itself in leading. SCO is different because it is litigating something it didn't invent and has no continuing interest in protecting. SGI might be dying, but it is not yet at the point that its business model gives priority to litigation.

          Where would you draw the line? When is it okay to litigate to protect your intellectual property without being accused of having a business model of litigation?
      • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @10:55AM (#16578130)
        I think we can now see the first salvo of the Patent Wars we have all feared were coming. It seems every dying company decides that they need to 'monitize their patent portfolio.' as soon as the customers disappear. And SGI will be horrible in their death throes. Thankfully most of Xerox was bought instead of us all having to suffer through their death spasms because they had even more patents to abuse when they were dying, although by now many of the most dangerous ones are probably expired.

        But this is still unfocused thrashing. Wait until they, like SCO, sucumb to the temptations of the monopolist in Redmond to focus their attack.

        The patent system doesn't need reform, it needs to be scraped and rethought. I'd say cap em at 1000 per year. With a number that low only real inventions would make it through and the number in any particular industry would be small enough anyone in that industry could be expected to be aware of them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tomstdenis ( 446163 )
      ATI deserves to be sued. Their Linux support is horrible. :-)

      And AMD still owes me a grand from my Linux World expenses... cheap bastards the lot of them!

  • welcome back SGI (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hlimethe3rd ( 879459 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @08:48AM (#16575988)
    So SGI has been reborn as a patent troll? Welcome to the party.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c_forq ( 924234 )
      I submitted this yesterday after seeing it on OSNews, but my question was: is this becoming the new business strategy for technology companies that failed in their traditional business? Just on the heels of rejoining the NASDAQ and after a period of bankruptcy instead of a restructure or new plan they announce litigation. Is SGI going to use any capital gained to rejoin the table as a technological competitor, or are they following the steps of SCO?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mike2R ( 721965 )
        is this becoming the new business strategy for technology companies that failed in their traditional business?

        I think it's inevtable. When a public company goes bankrupt, it has to be wound up or reconstituted in such a way as to give maximum value to its creditors and shareholders. If it's sitting on software patent assets that are potentially worth money then those assets must be realised.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by displague ( 4438 )
      Patent Troll? Were they honestly hording patents or were they innovating?

      It seems fair that SGI, who was very big in the game not that long ago and can no longer compete, should be able to collect dues for their patented ideas. I know nothing about the patent on hand, and whether or not it was obvious at the time, but I'm giving SGI the benefit of the doubt because of their cool blue Indigo systems.

      My only question to SGI is why didn't you start defending the patent earlier? "Because we thought we were f
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:24AM (#16576518)
        It seems fair that SGI, who was very big in the game not that long ago and can no longer compete, should be able to collect dues for their patented ideas.
        If only you had said "legal" instead of "fair."

        SGI did have their heyday. They had many good innovations, and at the time they also made a lot of money on those innovations for their employees and investors. That's all teriffic.

        But now that it's over, what good will be had by forcing us to pay an "SGI Tax" on anything to do with graphics for the next N years?

        • "But now that it's over, what good will be had by forcing us to pay an "SGI Tax" on anything to do with graphics for the next N years?"

          The same good it does us to pay the "Ford Tax" or "Chevy Tax" on items *they* patented and others are using. We do that ALL THE TIME. You make it sound like sour grapes. They failed so they should give up their intellectual property?!?!?
      • I thought there was supposed to be a law that would curb such practices i.e.: 1. Get a patent for something 2. Hide into a hole 3. Wait years for some other company to implement something related 4. Sue 5. ? (obligatory South Park refernce) 6. Profit! Not sure if the law passed but there was some talk about it. The law was supposed to deter 2 and 3. SGI's claim for the patent is probably valid (unlike SCO's claims) but if they are so offended and can claim so much loss they should have sued right way when
      • Re:welcome back SGI (Score:5, Informative)

        by mikael ( 484 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:40AM (#16576820)
        The patent is mentioned in the OpenGL extension specifications color_buffer_float.txt []

        SGI owns US Patent #6,650,327, issued November 18, 2003. SGI
                believes this patent contains necessary IP for graphics systems
                implementing floating point (FP) rasterization and FP framebuffer

        SGI's patent was filed June 16, 1998, and granted November 18, 2003

        ATI did similar work at the same time ATI_pixel_format_float []

        The development history of ATI's document ranges from 9th June 2002 to 4th December 2002

        Basically, ATI gets caught between SGI filing for a patent, and SGI having the patent granted. Although, given that SGI have been announcing the status of this patent for the past three years, it does seem odd that they are only sueing now. Maybe they are scared of the ATI/AMD merger, or see that ATI has more money now.
        • by fistfullast33l ( 819270 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @10:40AM (#16577862) Homepage Journal
          Good catch on that. Not many people will pay attention. I bet it took them 3 years to file the lawsuit because law moves slower than technology, and they had to take time to build a claim. I'd like to give SGI the benefit of the doubt here and say they're not a patent troll. You don't just file a lawsuit and hope for the best. As a business you need to make sure that your decision can be backed up (otherwise you become SCOX). Of course, I bet the bankruptcy had a lot to do both with the decision to file and the delay in filing. Plus, we don't know if SGI approached ATI before this and offered a deal over litigation.
      • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @10:14AM (#16577406) Homepage
        A once great company behaving like a patent troll is still a patent troll.

        A patent is intended to be a device to protect non-obvious research and innovation from being stolen so that you can reap the rewards in your product line. In this case, the research was not stolen, as ATI thought of it too. And SGI no longer has a product line to protect.

        They're suing ATI because they have no way left to make money. Period. They're not protecting their own product line or income stream, as they have neither. They're not even protecting their own research, as ATI developed this independently. They're just in their death throes, and are suing.

        Remember, patent mutually assured destruction doesn't work if one company no longer has a product line to destroy. Dying companies have a habit of taking others with them.
      • My only question to SGI is why didn't you start defending the patent earlier?

        Most likely because they used to actually make stuff. Since most of the companies that they could sue probably have plenty of patents of their own that SGI was infringing on, such an action would have risked shutting down SGI's production lines.

        Now that they've gone bankrupt, they probably figure that they don't stand to gain much by trying to produce things, so they can go forward as a pure patent troll. This won't infringe on

    • Unfortunately, SGI is violating my patent number 1,337 which is the concept of "being an annoying fucktard who wants to halt progress by patenting everything and then suing everyone."

      Seriously, fuck patents. Whatever they were originally intended for seems meaningless at this point.
    • SGI actually manufactures things(or at least they DID up till recently) so "patent troll" doesn't quite fit. Just because one company sues another over IP rights doesn't mean one of them is a patent troll.
  • You suck SGI. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dpaluszek ( 974028 )
    Sorry SGI, you are done. Your products are done, all of your competition can bring better products to the table. This isn't 1998 where you brought these trendy cases and we all "ooed" over them.

    Bye bye.
    • What worries me is if this New Business model will have an impact on Open Source. For the past few years, SGI has been one of the major contributors to Open Source in general and Linux in particular, including thread handling, non-uniform memory access (NUMA), access control lists, file stream support, and lots of other things. Will this dry up? And, more importantly, will the SGI remainder turn SCO on us and sue for something they've already given away? I sure hope not!

      SGI had some of the best engineer
  • Looks like the folks at SGI really did have a plan for restructuring. It's a shame that is' predicated on litigation rather than innovation. Although with the way companies are greedily gobbling up "intellectual property" (hah!), I don't feel too much pity for ATI.

    I wonder if the cost of going forward with this suit will hamper SGI's ability to produce and market new products?

    My guess is that they will, ultimately, lose this case, and that they will end up, in 18 months or so, filing Chapter 22.
  • by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @08:54AM (#16576052)
    The SCO-iffying of sgi. I used to love SGI. I still love their old hardware, from Indys to Reality Engines, from the 4D85 I started on (before they gave fancy names) to the Onyx Infinite Reality that we ran virtual sets on in real time long before PCs could even think about doing this stuff, and the sgi's ran a lot of our live TV well into the PC era, doing a better job than PCs could years after the sgis were released.

    But now it's over and sgi has become an office with a few lawyers, and this is what the call emerging from bankrupcy.
    • I am starting to think there is something about companies with 3 letter names that makes them want to sue, like SCO, DEC, NCR, AT&T and now SGI.

      Thank goodness we have IBM and AMD to stand up to them.....
    • Good hardware from a company that has gone bad.

      Not only did I love the hardware, but also the names. an "Indigo machine" is a great name for a machine, and the machine really looked great, too. Years ahead of the big shops offering good looking machines (Except Apple, of course).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HiThere ( 15173 ) *
      Sorry. This is unpleasant. That doesn't suffice to make it like SCO. So far there's no evidence that SGI didn't own the claimed patents. So far there's no evidence that SGI is going to refuse to say what it's suing about. Etc.

      SCO is so much worse than any ordinary company that it's difficult to comprehend just how foul they are, and how foul the legal system is to allow them to use it so. SOMEBODY's got to be being paid off. It can't normally be THAT bad.

      The SCO case is so bad that they have yet to c
  • Can't do business by developing, Building, and selling products/services? Thats OK, we have this great business plan, it can't fail! Business by litigation.
  • Not the first time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tjkslashdot ( 809901 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:00AM (#16576136)
    Anyone else remember they gave NVidia the same treatment [] back in the heady day's of '98? This is nothing new for SGI. "Rattle the cage, and try to stave off the end with another lawsuit." How did that last one work for SGI? Not so well....
  • When I read about stuff like this, it makes me annoyed. Not because any sense of fairness or ethics (companies don't have morals), but because of the wasted resources. Litigation is money spent without any production at the end. You pay a bunch of bloodsuckers to fight another bunch of bloodsuckers and either you take money from the other guy or the other guy takes money from you, but the only people guaranteed to get paid are the bloodsuckers.

    Imagine if the money spent on spurious litigation went into actual R&D, capital investment for fabrication centers, engineer salaries, hell even advertising. Anything but litigation!

    But as long as there's an avenue to make money this way, you can't really expect companies like SGI to behave any differently. You're providing a way for companies that are no long profitable (either because they have no product, e.g. SGI, or because they have an antiquate business model e.g. **AA) to leech off of the market instead of exiting it. Of course they're going to try to survive and not just go quietly into that good night. So, while I'm annoyed at this behavior, you have to realize that it's intellectual property laws that are the problem. We need fewer and simpler IP laws. Of course, trying to get lawmakers to pass fewer laws is like asking a competitive eater to "take it slow", and that's not even mentioning that the bloodsuckers aren't going to be happy to see yet another cash cow disappear anytime soon.

    How long will it take for public outrage to really grow until real reform is made?

  • Perhaps SGI caught wind of AMD/ATI's new "Fusion" [] CPU/GPU combination?


  • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:16AM (#16576402) Homepage
    "Those who can, do. Those who can't, sue."
  • We shouldn't jump to conclusions so quickly, as it is possible that SGI is simply trying to gain a foothold in the market.

    I would definitely welcome another competitor in the video card market.

  • A sad day... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FellowConspirator ( 882908 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:22AM (#16576498)
    SGI is late to the table to become a patent troll. If there's any lesson to be learned in the past 5 years in the tech world it's that a business plan built around litigation is no plan at all (unless you are a law firm, then you're basically printing your own money).

    It's a shame too, SGI was a great company with some very good products too.

    However, I would point out that it's not unexpected. One of the reasons that vendors of video cards don't provide hardware programming specs or open source drivers for their products has been for fear of litigation. It's been a prevalent rumor for years that many vendors feel that their products potentially run afoul of a bunch of patents and that's why they are so cagey with letting people understand how to program for their products and to get the best performance out of them. If SGI wins in this suit, expect a horrible blood-letting in the graphics adapter business and prices for premium technology to go up across the board.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 )
      ``It's a shame too, SGI was a great company with some very good products too.''

      Yes, and they gave to the Free software movement, too. XFS, OpenGL, and the STL, IIRC.
  • To any company involved in bringing to market saleable goods or services, the Patent Lawsuit strategy is like starting a Nuclear War. Only those who consider they have no future in the market will risk the inevitable mutually assured destruction from the counter lawsuits.

    That is another reason why Lawsuit mushroom clouds rise over the remains of USA's Tech industries []

    The USA will fall behind because ever more intellectual property will be locked up behind a multitude of corporations and individuals effec

  • that SGI would be able to come up with a working business model and pull themselves out of debt and stay around a while, if it means they're going to sit on their IP and sue the bejesus out of everyone, I wish they'd just go away. You hear me SGI? Innovate or die means innovate now, not 20 years ago.
  • by defile ( 1059 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:32AM (#16576672) Homepage Journal

    SGI is the market leader in high performance graphics.

    Someone makes cool 3d video game with a VGA.

    SGI laughs, continues selling workstations for $10k.

    Someone releases a commodity 3d graphics card.

    SGI laughs, continues selling workstations for $10k.

    Someone releases a fast commodity 3d graphics card.

    SGI laughs, but to placate the market, throws half-hearted PC graphics effort over the wall (Fahrenheit, x86 workstations, etc.) Effort is severely overpriced due to SGI's existing value network/cost structures. No one buys it.

    SGI thinks little of it, decides to let the commodity vendors have their razor thin margins, they're doing them a favor by leaving all of the fat deals to them, right?

    Commodity 3d graphics vendor offers lucrative deal to SGI top talent.

    SGI top talent, looking for new and exciting and more money jump ship.

    SGI, instead of getting the message, continues to focus on moving up-market and ignoring commodity markets.

    Commodity graphics grows into a dozens of billions of dollar market.

    SGI participates in none of it. Dies instead.

    Clap. Clap. Clap.

    • by SirKron ( 112214 ) <brian,kronberg&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @10:58AM (#16578176)
      • SGI participates in none of it. Dies instead.
      • AMD gobbles up SGI too as the company is cheaper than the future cost of attorney fees to defend against the patent claims.
      • Intel, NVIDIA shit themselves as their graphics cards also infringe the patents.
      • Lawsuit proceeds pays for SGI acquisition and more.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Doctor Memory ( 6336 )
      SGI top talent, looking for new and exciting and more money jump ship.

      SGI top talent, seeing future products cancelled and current projects crippled by cost-cutting measures, see the writing on the wall and jump ship.

      Fixed that for ya...
  • If AMD can buy ATI for $4.2B, can't they simply add a few bucks to buy SGI too?
    • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:42AM (#16576866)
      If AMD can buy ATI for $4.2B, can't they simply add a few bucks to buy SGI too?

      Why else would SGI be doing this? Eventually, either they'll sue the right deep pockets and get bought out, or another company will take a look at their growing list of pending lawsuits and decide they want in on that action. At least, that's the plan.

  • SGI hasn't exactly been doing so well lately. One of the guest speakers in business school told me straight out: have good legal representation because, when the chips are down, that's all you may have left. All this lawsuit is is a manifestation of that principle and the "cornered animal" principle.

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:46AM (#16576944)
    I am sure that if NVIDIA and ATI were to open their drivers or specs, it would make it much easier for companies with patents to go after them.
    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )
      Actually, no... All the technical data does is tell you how to drive the chips. It doesn't reveal all too much of how the silicon actually does what's being asked of it. If they've got any mojo that can't be revealed in that manner, they've got piece-parts of tech where they shouldn't be. Intel opened up everything except how to drive the Macrovision pieces of the chip (per their agreements with Macrovision and DVD CCA/MPAA...)- if it were Patent concerns, I assure you, it'd not been open sourced.
  • by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @09:53AM (#16577068) Homepage
    As of today, they've announced that they've completed the merger. Now begins the integration of the companies in question...
  • I am sure now we do not want SGI to make a come-back []. People here have mentioned that they have made interesting products in the past, but now that they are unable to compete, they will become a purely litigious company. They could not and cannot keep up, so they are effectively determined to hold everyone else back. This is yet another example of a failed patent system defeating what is demonstrably productive market economics. SGI, when it was king of graphics, failed to deliver the substantial improv

  • Tags: amd, ati, sgi.
  • Enough said.
  • by usrusr ( 654450 )
    So SGI is making cloudy suggestions that there might be more IP to blackmail over.

    Someone seems to be really desperate to get bought by one of the remaining big players (most likely they are hoping for intel). So the whole company is really only worth the legal matches to light the other guy's factory.
  • by aero6dof ( 415422 ) <> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @10:23AM (#16577588) Homepage
    SGI is back from the dead and is now trying to feast on living companies. If that doesn't fit the halloween season I don't know what does.
  • Ridiculous Patent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <<logicnazi> <at> <>> on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @12:25PM (#16579790) Homepage
    Go read the background of this patent. The patent itself admits that there was plenty of graphics prior art that used floating point values to do the calculations. All they are claiming a patent on is implementing this system in hardware! And they include a line in their patent about how it has now become possible/desierable to implement the floating point stuff in hardware.

    To be fair it seems their 'advancement' is that they kept the data in floating point format in the framebuffer rather than converting it to fixed point. Now their implementation of this approach probably contained some genuine advancement but just the notion of doing everything in floating point is pretty fucking obvious.

    What I don't understand about this is that surely SGI has some much more substantial patents in their pockets. Is the problem that they gave them away with OpenGL/don't want to scare people away from opengl?

    My personal guess is that SGI isn't serious about pursuing this particular patent infringement. Rather they are using a very broad and simple patent to go on a fishing expedition about ATI's hardware. During discovery on this patent SGI will be able to get details about how ATI's hardware/software works that they would otherwise not be able to get. I suspect SGI thinks ATI is infringing on a more substantial patent somewhere and is going to use the discovery during this case to find out.
  • Probably inevitable (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JakiChan ( 141719 ) on Wednesday October 25, 2006 @01:54PM (#16581558)
    ATI and nVidia are chock full of ex-SGI employees. For example, a good chunk of my friends from the MIPS division are at ATI. There's also the story of how they got rid of the desktop graphics division. The story goes that the entire team was pulled into the cafe. As they walked in their badges were taken. They were then told that some would be going to nVidia and some would be going home. So there is probably a whole bunch of SGI guys at nVidia as well. I wouldn't be surprised if some SGI-patented ideas leaked in....

Loose bits sink chips.