Patent Profiteers

Acacia Technologies is laying claim to the innovations that move video and music through cyberspace. Could this tiny company be the next Internet powerhouse?

15 min read

A patent, any good patent attorney will tell you, isn't a right to do something, it's a right to keep others from doing it. If your invention is a good one, they'll pay you for the privilege of using it for the patent's 20-year life. If they don't license your patent voluntarily but apply its innovation anyway, you have two choices: back off, or sue for infringement. Which way you go depends largely on how much money you've got-if you decide to go the legalistic route, you'd better have a couple of million dollars to start you on your way.

Captain Carl Elam was an inventor with more good ideas than money. Back in 1983, repelled by what kids could watch on TV, he and another U.S. Air Force officer, Dale Leavy, designed a system that would let parents block certain types of programs. Eighteen years later, the V-chip, as such a system would come to be called, hit it big when the U.S. Congress ordered that all new televisions include content-filtering technology. By then, though, out of money, the two inventors had sold their patent. They ended up with a quarter of the fees that TV manufacturers eventually paid for licenses. Raking in most of the V-chip dough was a small band of venture capitalists at a California company called Acacia Technologies Group.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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