How IP Stifles Innovation

What Will Become of the World’s First Open Source GPU? by Nicole Hemsoth.

From the post:

Open source hardware and microprocessor projects are certainly nothing new, and while there has been great momentum on the CPU front, there have not been efforts to release an open source GPU into the wild. However, at the Hot Chips conference this week, a team of researchers revealed their plans for MIAOW, a unique take on open source hardware that leverages a subset of AMD’s Southern Islands ISA that is used for AMD’s own GPU and can run OpenCL codes at what appears to be an impressive performance point that is comparable to existing single-precision GPU results.

As an open source project, it is reasonable to think that once it is further refined, some clever startup might decide to take the chip into full production. However, as one might imagine, there are likely going to be some serious IP infringement issues to address. Since the entire scope of the project is based on a pared-down variant of the AMD ISA for its own GPUs, the team will either need to work within AMD’s confines to continue pushing such a project or the effort, no matter how well proven it is in FPGA prototyping or actual silicon, could be a series of lawsuits waiting to happen.

Dr. Karu Sankaralingam, who led the team’s effort at the University of Wisconsin, where the project is based, says that building an open source or any other hardware project is bound to incur legal wrangling, in part because the IP almost has to be reused in one form or another. Generally, he says that for open source hardware projects like this one, the best defense is to use anything existing as a base but focus innovation on building on top of that. He says that to date, AMD has not been involved in the project beyond a few individuals offering some insight on various architectural elements. In other words, if the team is able to roll this beyond research and into any kind of volume, AMD will likely have words.

See Nicole’s post for technical details.

Sad that the future of such a project must depend on the largess of an IP holder.

If you were a venture capitalist, would you invest in an IP minefield waiting to explode? Likely not.

Patents on chips should require a production version of the chip. And then a patent only for three (3) years. If you haven’t captured the market in three (3) years, you are doing something wrong or there not much IP in your patent.

IP protection should apply to new ideas and inventions, not traps laid for the unwary by the non-productive.

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