[XCSSA] XOR patent ended CD32, and Commodore-Amiga

xcssa@xcssa.org xcssa@xcssa.org
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 
Game Over.

So, the thing that finally brought the original Amiga house down was the 
XOR patent!

http://amiga.emugaming.com/cd32.html

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 
software.

http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/

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.

Charles