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Intel, Freescale, Marvell named in patent case

Intel, Freescale, and Marvell have been targeted in a lawsuit which claims they each infringe a patent on reducing the power draw of a system's processing hardware.

The suit, filed by Texas-based, alleges that the three companies - each major semiconductor companies who produce low-power processors for the mobile and embedded markets - infringe a 1994 patent describing an implementation of "power management apparatus collocated on the same integrated circuit as the functional unit that it manages."

Interestingly, the patent wasn't actually filed by Power Management Systems, instead carrying the name of the equally generic-sounding Electronics Products Company based out of California. Filed in 1994 and granted in 1996, it describes an integrated circuit which is capable of managing its own power draw, using a variety of techniques to save power without requiring an external power management controller.

That patent, claims Power Management Systems, is being infringed by the three companies in their low-power product lines. The offending products are named as Freescale’s i.MX515 series, Marvell’s PXA940 series, and Intel's Atom Z600 series - an interesting distinction, as the company's mainstream processors cover a larger market and use the self-same technology. The suit does, however, indicate that its claims are 'not limited to' the named products.

On the face of it, PMS seems to have a case: while it's difficult to explain the length of time between the granting of the patent, its first infringement, and the subsequent case, the named companies' technologies are very similar to that described. The original patent also pre-dates Intel's SpeedStep Technology, and AMD's equivalent PowerNow! - which, interestingly, is not named in the case - didn't appear until 2008. Even ACPI, which includes in-built power management capabilities, wasn't released until December 1996.

Thus far, none of the companies involved in the suit have responded to our request for comment. If PMS is successful, however, they could be on the hook for some substantial payouts - and the company is likely to target other semiconductor firms in due course.

Power Management Systems is asking for damages, attorney's fees, filing costs, and a trial before jury for "such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper."