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MicroUnity Systems Engineering, Inc.
Industry Computer hardware and software
Founded 1988
Headquarters Los Altos, California, USA
Key people
John Moussouris
Website www.microunity.com

MicroUnity Systems Engineering, Inc. is a private company located in Los Altos, California and an early developer of broadband microprocessor technologies licensed widely across digital media industries.

Founders and Funding[edit]

MicroUnity was founded in 1988 by John Moussouris, a physicist trained at Harvard University and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University who had co-founded MIPS Computer Systems.[1][2][3] The Chief Architect is Craig Hansen, who used to be Chief Architect at MIPS and NeXT.[1][3] An early investor was Moussouris’ Harvard classmate William Randolph Hearst III, the publishing and media executive who became a partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins.[1][3][4] In the early 1990s, MicroUnity was backed by over $100 million from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Motorola, and telecommunications leaders like Time Warner and John Malone at Tele-Communications Inc..[1][3][4][5]

Early media processing technology[edit]

The company’s main focus was a programmable media processor chip and associated software aimed at set-top boxes and other systems.[1][3][6]

MicroUnity kept its product development secret until 1995.[3][6] In early 1996, the company published details at COMPCON [7][8] of its media processor hardware and software designs. The technology processed media data of various types and width in a 128-bit data path in parallel.[7][8][9]

Manufacturing innovations[edit]

MicroUnity developed its first designs in BiCMOS at a time when Intel Pentium Pro and Sun Microsystems SPARC were designed in BiCMOS.[10] Company patents describe technologies intended for integration of analog media interfaces with digital circuits.[11][12]

When foundry capacity became scarce, MicroUnity built a chip manufacturing plant in Sunnyvale, California.[3][5][6] In 1995, MicroUnity’s telecommunications investors formed @Home Network to provide internet over cable using modems that could be built more cheaply in CMOS. At the direction of these investors, MicroUnity sold its BiCMOS factory in 1996 to InterConnect Technology, Malaysia.[1][13]

The lithography innovations MicroUnity developed in its factory included optical proximity correction technology called MaskTools. The company licensed its MaskTools technology to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation and many other US and Asian manufacturers.[14] This lithography business was sold and became the MaskTools division of ASM Lithography in 1999.[15][16]

Patent licensing[edit]

In March 2004, the company filed suit against Intel and Dell alleging infringement of several patents. In October 2005, Intel settled and licensed the patent portfolio for $300 million.[1][3][17]

In 2007, Sony and AMD also licensed MicroUnity’s patent portfolio.[18][19]

In 2010, the company filed a lawsuit against Apple, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and other smartphone and mobile technology providers.[20][21] On May 10, 2013 MicroUnity entered into a settlement and license agreement with Qualcomm.[22] By July 16, 2013 all the other parties reached settlement and license agreements with MicroUnity.[23]

Next generation media processing technology[edit]

MicroUnity’s website and patent filings describe a media processing technology called BroadMX, which aims to extend parallelism beyond the original 128-bit operations by providing compound operations and wide operand caches embedded in execution units.[24][25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Intel Settlement Revives a Fading Chip Designer". New York Times. 2005-10-20. Retrieved 2014-07-01. 
  2. ^ "John Moussouris". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 2014-07-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "John Moussouris has created a multimedia chip that could change the face of communications. Now he hopes the world will . . . : Follow His MUSE". Los Angeles Times. 1996-04-17. Retrieved 2014-07-01. 
  4. ^ a b "Chip Start-ups Big Payoff comes in at Last". New York Times. 2005-10-20. Retrieved 2014-07-01. 
  5. ^ a b "A Maverick Enters Chip Making". New York Times. 1994-02-23. Retrieved 2014-07-02. 
  6. ^ a b c "Chip Maker Introduces a Chip for Super Use and for Modems". New York Times. 1995-10-10. Retrieved 2014-07-02. 
  7. ^ a b Hansen, C. (February 25–28, 1996). MicroUnity's Mediaprocessor Architecture. CompCon 1996 Technologies for the Digital Superhighway. IEEE Conference Publications. pp. 34–41. 
  8. ^ a b Abbott, C.; Massalin, H.; Peterson, K.; Karzes, T.; Yamano, L.; Kellogg, G. (February 25–28, 1996). Broadband algorithms with the MicroUnity Mediaprocessor. CompCon 1996 Technologies for the Digital Superhighway. IEEE Conference Publications. pp. 349–354. 
  9. ^ Yu Hen Hu (ed.). Programmable Digital Signal Processors. Marcel Dekker Inc. pp. 217–219. 
  10. ^ Slater, Michael (November 13, 1995). "Intel Boosts Pentium Pro to 200 MHz". Microprocessor Report. 
  11. ^ [http:// patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=5112761.PN.&OS=PN/5112761&RS=PN/5112761 US Patent], James Matthew, "BiCMOS Process Utilizing Planarization Technique", issued May 12. 1992, assigned to MicroUnity 
  12. ^ US Patent, Corry; Alan , Mostyn; Graham , Michel; Jean-Yves, "Noise reduction in integrated circuits and circuit assemblies", issued July 15, 1997, assigned to MicroUnity 
  13. ^ "Buy gives Interconnect Tech Fab in Valley". Cyber Security and Information Services. 1996-10-07. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  14. ^ "TSMC Becomes First Foundry to License MicroUnity's Lithography Solution for 0.18 Micron Production". Semiconductor Online. 1999-03-09. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  15. ^ "ASML expands into proximity correction". EE Times. 1999-06-01. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  16. ^ "ASM Lithography Acquires Mask-Tool Company". EE Times. 1999-06-02. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  17. ^ "Chip start-up's big payoff comes in, at last". CNET. 2005-10-05. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  18. ^ "MicroUnity, Sony reach settlement in patent suit". Southeast Texas Record. 2007-12-13. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  19. ^ "AMD, MicroUnity Call Truce In GPU Patent Spat". LAW360. 2008-01-07. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  20. ^ "MicroUnity sues mobile giants for Patent Infringement". EE Times. 2010-03-17. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  21. ^ "Microunity sues Apple, Google, HTC and, well, just about everybody". MACNews. Retrieved 2014-07-02. 
  22. ^ "Microunity Systems Engineering mentioned by QUALCOMM Inc (QCOM)". Tickerpot.com. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  23. ^ "Lawsuit Summary - Microunity Systems vs. Apple et al". IPInsiders. 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  24. ^ "MicroUnity Systems Engineering, Inc". Patentdocs. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  25. ^ "BroadMX C/C++ Functions" (PDF). September 2009. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 

External links[edit]