I can sort of accept that if the government grants monopolies like patents it should put some sort of limit on prices. I’m not sure how this would be done in practice.
The patent system does suck though, e.g.
[quote]Though you can not patent an instruction set, you can patent designs and methods that are necessary to implement a particular unusual instruction that is part of the instruction set. That prevents competitors from creating a fully compatible clone of your processor without infringing your patent. There are four instructions in the MIPS-I instruction set that are protected by one US patent, 4,814,976. These instructions, lwl, lwr, swl, and swr are known as the unaligned load and store instructions. These instructions are useful in systems in which memory is scarce or expensive. In such systems, it is often useful to pack 16-bit or 32-bit data values in to memory in such a way that they are aligned to arbitrary byte boundaries and not necessarily to natural 16-bit half-word or 32-bit word boundaries. Accessing such unaligned variables requires at least two bus clock cycles, whereas accesses to aligned data can be performed in a single cycle. Most assembly programmers and compilers for modern systems align data to their natural address boundaries in order to gain the system bus performance benefit of aligned loads and stores.
Prudent high tech companies study their competitors’ patent portfolios, and Lexra was no exception. Lexra was well aware of the patent on unaligned loads and stores that was owned by Silicon Graphics and later by MIPS Technologies. To avoid infringing, Lexra chose not to implement unaligned loads and stores in its processor design.
When MIPS filed its S-1 IPO prospectus form it sued Lexra for copyright infringement. The suit was settled after a few months with Lexra agreeing not to use MIPS trademarks without attribution and to state in its documentation and in its public statements that it implemented “the MIPS-I instruction set except for unaligned loads and stores”. MIPS Technologies agreed to the settlement, apparently acknowledging that Lexra did not execute unaligned loads and stores.
If a Lexra processor encountered an unaligned load or store instruction in the program that it was executing then it did the same thing that it would do for any other invalid opcode, it took a reserved instruction exception. In the second lawsuit between MIPS Technologies and Lexra, MIPS Technologies claimed that because an exception handler could be created to emulate the function of unaligned loads and stores in software with many other instructions Lexra’s processors infringed the patent. Upon learning of this broad interpretation of the patent, Lexra requested that the US Patent and Trademark office (PTO) reexamine whether the patent was novel when granted. Almost every microprocessor in the world can emulate the functionality of unaligned loads and stores in software. MIPS Technologies did not invent that. By any reasonable interpretation of the MIPS Technologies’ patent, Lexra did not infringe. In mid-2001 Lexra received a preliminary ruling from the PTO that key claims in the unaligned load and store patent were invalid because of prior art in an IBM CISC patent. MIPS Technologies appealed the PTO ruling and also won a favorably broad interpretation of the language of the patent from a judge that forced Lexra into a settlement that included dropping the reexamination request before MIPS Technologies might have lost its appeal.[/quote]
So MIPS got a dubious patent on a couple of instructions. Lexra built a MIPS compatible processor which didn’t implement those instructions and was still destroyed.
I can see if you do some research you should be allowed to hawk it round large companies and try to get them to license the patent to pay for the work you did. The problem here is that MIPS wasn’t interested in royalties, it was interested in crushing Lexra completely. Oh and Lexra wasn’t interested in licensing the patent. So this case is pretty far from the situation where I can see patents are justified.
If IBM or Intel had managed to do this, we’d be paying a lot more for our computers.