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Intel back-tracks on IEEE1394 support

Great Satan joins FireWire patent pool, as it dramatically cuts royalties

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In a major about-face, Intel has joined the IEEE1394 (aka FireWire) patent pool, the self-appointed consortium of PC and consumer electronics vendors which jointly controls FireWire intellectual property and charges royalties accordingly. At the same time, the other poolers announced their new 1394 tarriff, designed to counter bad publicity prompted by Apple's orginal decision to license FireWire on $1-a-port terms. Intel's surprise move came some three months after the Great Satan announced USB 2.0, which it reckons will dominate PC-peripheral connectivity and demote 1394 to little more than an interface for digital cameras (see Intel snubs IEEE 1394 for USB 2.0). Speaking at the Intel Developers Forum, Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's desktop division, went as far as to claim FireWire, aka IEEE 1394, could quickly become a "niche" technology. However, it now appears Intel is rather less dismissive of the standard, and wants in. It joins original patent pool members Apple, Sony, Toshiba, Philips, Matsushita and Compaq. Other recent recruits include Canon, STMicroelectronics, Mitsubishi and Zayante. This time round, Gelsinger claims: "IEEE1394 enables the PC to add tremendous value to consumer electronics devices." Clearly, Sony's decision to build FireWire -- or iLink, as it calls the technology -- into the upcoming Playstation 2, which is likely to be offered as something more than a games console, and the increased interest in 1394 has persuaded Stan to get closer to 1394. That said, the original licensing issue was highlighted by Gelsinger at IDF as one of the chief reasons why Intel was pursuing USB 2.0 instead of 1394. The concern over licensing was prompted by Apple's move to charge manufacturers $1 for every 1394 port installed in a system. Pressure from key FireWire supporters then forced Apple to place its IP into the hands of the patent pool (see Apple caves in over FireWire licensing). The patent group's new royalty fee comes in at 25 cents per system, regardless of the number of FireWire ports installed. Of course, joining the 1394 patent poolers is one thing, throwing your full weight behind the standard is another. It will be interesting to see how Intel's move on FireWire affects both the specification and market positioning of USB 2.0, when it's unveiled at the next Intel Developers Forum in September. ® See also Third fighter joins FireWire, USB 2.0 fray 1394 Trade Association replies to Intel Firewire snub

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