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Category: Embedded Business News

Luminary Micro Hit with Patent Lawsuit from Microchip

By Bill Giovino, Executive Editor
May 28, 2006 - 2:08:00 PM

Microchip Technology has filed a lawsuit against the mysterious Luminary Micro for violating Microchip patents regarding pin configuration for low pincount microcontrollers.
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Luminary Micro of Austin Texas, an ARM licensee (or is it subsidiary?), has been hit with a patent infringement lawsuit by Microchip Technology in an effort to prohibit sales of Luminary Micro's microcontrollers.

The Lawsuit
The suit, filed on April 12, 2006 in the United States District Court in Arizona, alleges that Luminary Micro's 28-pin Stellaris™ series of microcontrollers infringes three Microchip patents, specifically U.S. Patent Nos. 5,847,450; 6,483,183 and 6,696,316. These patents relate to Microchip's method of configuring multifunction pins in low pincount microcontrollers.

On February 28, 2006, Patent #6,696,316 had already been selected to be reexamined for validity by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has not yet ruled on this re-examination. While some contend that the Microchip patent is broad, this patent was only recently granted to Microchip in 2002; in the past, the USPTO has ruled to uphold similar semiconductor patents.

The Damages
Microchip is seeking permanent injunctive relief to prohibit the sale, and the end use, of all Luminary Micro products that allegedly violate Microchip's three patents. Microchip is also seeking unspecified damages from Luminary Micro as a result of said infringement.

Since Microchip is seeking to prevent the use of Luminary Micro devices that allegedly violate their patents, conceivably the lawsuit may apply to manufacturers of development boards as well

Luminary Micro is alleged to violate this Microchip patent
Luminary Micro is alleged to violate this Microchip patent

The Microchip President & CEO Says:
"Microchip has and continues to invest significantly in the development of intellectual property that is used as a driving factor in our industry-leading PIC® microcontrollers and analog products," said Steve Sanghi, Microchip’s President and CEO. "These intellectual properties and the technology breakthroughs associated with them have enabled Microchip to achieve its position of leadership in 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers and analog products, and are protected by a strong patent portfolio. We are resolved to enforce our patents against infringers, to protect our investments in research and development and the interests of our employees and shareholders."

Sanghi added further, "The U.S. Patent Office is currently reexamining those patents, and we fully expect the Patent Office to confirm the reach of our patents."

The Luminary Micro President & CEO Says:
Jim Reinhart, Luminary Micro’s CEO, stated, "As evidenced by Microchip’s decision to issue a press release rather than talk to us, we believe this is simply a case of the big corporate bully trying to stifle innovation and competition in the marketplace and scare our customers. Regardless of what claims they may have filed – which we still have not seen – we strongly believe that our products do not infringe, and we continue undaunted."

The Mystery! 
The Stellaris™ series of microcontrollers from Luminary Micro is based upon the new ARM Cortex™ core, which was introduced last year in a somewhat mysterious manner. Late 2005, Luminary anonymously solicited sales leads online through a spokesperson named "Rebecca Rostetter" (which may or may not have been her real name). "Rebecca" refused to disclose the name of the company she was soliciting leads for. Of course, this didn't stop me from finding out the name Luminary Micro anyway.

To add to this mystery, Luminary Micro's funding also seems to be hidden, and last year ARM ignored all of my inquiries on this matter. However, according to ARM Technologies Ltd 2005 Annual Report, it seems that ARM has made significant investments in Luminary Micro - about half a million dollars in 2005 alone, possibly more in previous years.

It now appears that Luminary Micro has received seed funding by ARM - whicn means that ARM Technologies is now competing with their own licensees!

Microcontroller.com's past experience with Luminary has been just as mysterious, and less than satisfactory.

© Microcontroller.com. All Rights Reserved.

Luminary Micro Hit with Patent Lawsuit from Microchip

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Product data and specifications in this article are the responsibility of the manufacturer. No warrenty is expressed or implied as to the accuracy of manufacturer-supplied data. So there.
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