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Microsoft's SGI 3D patents trickling back to Redmond

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The results of the transfer of Silicon Graphics' 3D patent portfolio to Microsoft have begun to show up in the US Patent Office database.

Last October, SGI revealed a payment of $62.5 million from Microsoft for "non core" intellectual property. In January, we explained what this was.

The US Patent Office now shows three patent applications assigned to Microsoft Corp. which were invented at SGI by SGI employees. None of the inventors has worked for Microsoft.

The three patents are 6,362,828 ("Method and system for dynamic texture replication on a distributed memory graphics architecture") filed on June 24 1999 by David L Morgan; 6,369,814 ("Transformation pipeline for computing distortion correction geometry for any design eye point, display surface geometry, and projector position") filed on March 26 1999 by Angus M Dorbie; and 6,373,482 ("Method, system, and computer program product for modified blending between clip-map tiles") filed on December 23 1998 by Christopher J Migdel [sic] and Don Freeman Hatch. "Migdel" is a typo, it's actually Migdal, as his previous patent filings and another published paper confirms.

Morgan and Dorbie confirmed the details, but declined to comment. Through a spokesman, SGI's legal department said this was "business as usual".

SGI has maintained that the patents transferred are not essential to the company's business. And true, the company isn't in the 3D card business, and remains the industry's richest source of graphics intellectual property.

Our story launched feverish conspiratorial speculation about why Microsoft should want to acquire even more 3D graphics know how - speculation we were partly responsible for fuelling.

But the context, as we understand it, was fairly straightforward: the transfer paved the way for the launch of the Xbox, which had been threatened at the eleventh-hour, over rights to patents that originated at SGI and that were subsequently licensed to NVidia. Late in the day, NVidia discovered that it didn't have the rights to sublicense them. And the deal provided SGI with cash, which it needed fairly urgently last year.

Sometimes, the chicken wants to cross the road just to get to the other side. ®

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