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Patent dispute threatens GPS imports

Aug 26, 2008 — by Jonathan Angel — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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U.S. importation of smartphones and other devices using SiRF's GPS chipsets could be banned by December, if the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) adopts a recommendation made last week. Announced by Broadcom, the ruling is the latest development in a patent battle between the chipmakers.

On Aug. 22, ITC Administrative Law Judge Carl Charneski recommended that the ITC bar imports of the “infringing” GPS chips produced by SiRF, and of “all downstream products that incorporate those chips,” says Broadcom. The recommendation follows an “initial determination” by Charneski earlier this month, when he held that SiRF is infringing six GPS-related patents held by Global Locate, Inc., a Broadcom subsidiary.

SiRF was found to infringe U.S. patents 6,417,801; 6,937,187; 6,606,346; 7,158,080; 6,704,651; and 6,651,000, relating to extended ephemeris assistance (long term orbits), calculating time in GPS receivers, enhancing sensitivity in assisted GPS systems, and implementing hardware structures for parallel correlation, according to Broadcom. Affected architectures are said to include SiRF's starIII and InstantFix.

Broadcom says the full six-person commission will meet by early December to make a decision on both the finding of infringement and the remedy. Should imports of SiRF-based devices be banned, the development will represent both a stunning fall from grace for SiRF, and a significant disruption for a mobile device market that is balancing increasing consumer demand for GPS with the challenge of finding reasonably priced GPS chipsets.

A pioneer in the commercial use of GPS technology, SiRF was founded in 1995. It now faces substantial competition from Broadcom, Qualcomm, and others, but claims to retain market leadership in the PND space. SiRF chipsets are available in a number of Linux-compatible products, and at least one multi-chip module, including:

This year, SiRF announced the SiRF Prima, an SoC (system on chip) that uses an ARM11 core. The SiRFprima was said to be one of the first products that is capable of working with both American GPS and European Galileo satellite networks. The SoC also dedicates some of its hardware to accelerating SiRF's InstantFixII technology, touted as decreasing GPS startup times by modeling satellite behavior, then predicting their positions in the sky for up to three days in the future.

SiRF has not responded publicly to Judge Charneski's latest recommendation, but has reportedly filed with the U.S. Patent Office to gain a reexamination of the contested patents. Broadcom acquired the patents when it purchased Global Locate in July 2007.


 
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