ARM sued over Java accelerator

UK chip maker ARM has been accused of infringing the patent of a California chip design firm, Nazomi Communications. ARM says there is no case to answer

ARM, the UK chip designer, has been sued by US rival Nazomi Communications over an alleged patent violation by ARM's Java acceleration technology, the companies said on Tuesday.

ARM's designs power most mobile phones on the market today, as well as Pocket PCs and other handheld computers.

Nazomi specialises in chips that accelerate the performance of software running on Java, an environment that allows specially-written software to run on many different platforms. Nazomi's products are particularly focussed on wireless products such as handheld computers and mobile phones.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday at the Federal District Court for Northern California, alleges that ARM's own Java-acceleration technology infringes Nazomi's US patent no. 6,332,215, which is for a Java virtual machine hardware for RISC and CISC processors. Nazomi said it is seeking a permanent injunction blocking ARM's technology, and unspecified damages.

Nazomi said its patent covers a Java hardware accelerator, "which can be used to quickly translate Java bytecodes into native instructions for a central processing unit (CPU)". Java bytecodes are Java instructions that run on the Java Virtual Machine -- the layer of software that sits on top of the processor to create a common platform for Java applications to run on. Because this Java virtual machine has to translate Java bytecodes into native instructions that the CPU can process, a bottleneck can occur. Nazomi's hardware accelerator patent purports to remove this bottleneck.

According to the patent, the Java hardware accelerator and the CPU can be put together on a single semiconductor chip to provide an embedded system for commercial appliances. Such an embedded system solution should be less expensive than a powerful superscalar CPU and could have a relatively low power consumption.

"Nazomi's intellectual property is the cornerstone of our business and is one of our most prized assets," said Mukesh Patel, Nazomi's chief executive, in a statement. "We must assure that our investment as well as our customers' investments in these technologies are protected around the globe."

ARM includes its Jazelle Java acceleration technology in many of its chip designs, which carry out a variety of processing functions within mobile devices. Nazomi's chips, such as the JA108 chip and Jstar and Jsmart coprocessors, are dedicated to Java acceleration.

ARM said the lawsuit was "frivolous". "ARM performs extensive patent research during the development of its products," stated Mike Muller, ARM's chief technology officer. "Having reviewed our technology, it is obvious that we don't infringe the Nazomi patents."

The UK company said it has been in discussions with Nazomi on the matter, but that Nazomi has never indicated the basis for its allegations.

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