Intel partners 'lab on a chip' firm

Deal masks interest in controversial digital distribution patents?

Intel is to explore the market for chips designed to probe DNA and other biochemicals, courtesy of a deal with specialist 'lab on a chip' maker CombiMatrix's parent company, Acacia Research (AR).

Or is it? While Intel could well be interested in such an arena, coincidentally CombiMatrix is sibling to a company that owns a series of controversial digital content distribtuion patents - a field that the chip giant is very definitely keen on.

Terms of deal, announced yesterday, remain confidential, but the substance of the agreement will see the two co-operating to determine "the feasibility of various projects utilising CombiMatrix's core technology".

That "core technology" comprises chips that contain arrays of individually addressable microelectrodes. When placed in a specially designed fluidic chamber the chip directs the molecular assembly of biochemicals.

CombiMatrix pitches the technology at DNA, gene and even genome synthesis, and is targeted at medical research and diagnostic role. The applications for the pharmaceutical industry are clear.

AR also maintains a second division, Acacia Technologies Group (ATG), which is a technology licensing operation. It currently owns five US and 31 overseas patents relating to decidedly non-biological applications such as audio and video on demand, audio and video streaming, and the distribution of digital content via the Net, cable, satellite and wireless systems. It also has patents covering the infamous 'V chip'.

It's tempting to speculate that these may signpost Intel's real interest in the deal: access to these technology properties in return for lending its semiconductor expertise to CombiMatrix.

ATG recently put the squeeze on US cable companies, and on a number of website owners, claiming they all infringe on its patents. Some cablecos have coughed up an licensed ATG's intellectual property, other continue to challenge it in the US courts. ®

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