[XCSSA] XOR patent ended CD32, and Commodore-Amiga
Tue, 08 Feb 2005 20:52:15 -0600
I thought I knew just about all I needed to know about the decline and
fall of Commodore-Amiga, having experienced it as an Amiga owner and
fan, then hearing reports, reading articles, and even watching the video.
But I didn't know this factoid. Apparently Commodore-Amiga owed $10M
for patent infringement. Because of that, the US government wouldn't
allow any CD-32's into the USA. And because of that, the Phillipines
factory seized all of the CD-32's that had been manufactured to cover
unpaid expenses. And that was the end. Commodore-Amiga had basically
gambled everything on the CD-32 being the platform that would save the
company. And when they couldn't bring any into the US, it was clearly
So, the thing that finally brought the original Amiga house down was the
The XOR patent covers the use of the machine language XOR (exclusive-or)
operator to make a cursor blink in a bitmapped display. This is at the
top of many lists of the most ridiculous software patents. For one
thing, it's an obvious idea that might arise in the mind of a moderately
intelligent software developer in the course of an afternoon or less. A
given software program is composed of hundreds of thousands of such
ideas; it would be absurd to grant patent privileges to each such idea.
But that's exactly what the US Patent Office did, and, so far as I
know, keeps on doing. The only reason why this hasn't brought software
development to a halt is that usually such patents aren't enforced
anyway; companies just patent everything they can thing of to protect
themselves from other companies doing the same thing. But in the case
of the XOR patent, the originating software company, was basically going
defunct, but some lawyers saw this one patent as their key to riches, so
they bought the company for a few bucks just to capitalize on that
patent. So they had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from
vigorous enforcement of an absurd patent.
I oppose software patents generally, following Richard Stallman, founder
of the Free Software Foundation who also founded the League for
Programming Freedom because of this issue, and many other people.
Software patents were deemed to be illegal (as mathematical formulae)
until a 1980 court case which many have felt was misconstrued since it
was not a "pure" software patent, but concerned machinery which used
I think it's also interesting that this story of the XOR patent killing
Commodore-Amiga didn't get much press. All you tended to hear about was
various naysaying about the incompetence of the Amiga management (well,
that was true anyway), the supposed unpopularity of the Amiga platform,
the rise of the wonderful new Windows 3.1, etc.