| Colorado Springs, Colo. Taeus International Corp. is taking its reverse-engineering and intellectual-property analysis business to Russia via a relationship with St. Petersburg design house Sintar. Taeus hopes to make the Sintar pact a model for future outsourcing deals. |
When Taeus ("take apart everything under the sun") launched in 1992, it probed hardware platforms and developed detailed IC diagrams to determine IC and subsystem behavior. Even today, hardware analysis remains important to the company's business: Its test labs in Colorado Springs, Colo., have grown to encompass multiple floors of an urban office building, totaling close to 10,000 square feet.
As a reverse-engineering expert, Taeus competes with the likes of Ottawa-based Chipworks Inc., though Taeus CEO Art Nutter said that reverse engineering is becoming almost a "back-end service" to support the company's patent examination and expert-witness work on IP.
Indeed, the company's licensing development and legal-assistance services for brokering IP pacts on chip- and system-level designs have helped define the way Taeus operates internationally. In Europe, for example, the company has a U.K. patent office run by Simon Clegg, a former IP specialist at Alcatel. But the European operation is looking for more regional links to engineering specialists like Sintar.
"When there is local design-house or reverse-engineering talent in a region, we want to take advantage of what's there," Nutter said. "Then those local companies work with direct Taeus employees on IP examination and licensing issues."
Taeus' labs in Colorado include everything from scanning microscopes that analyze the physical structure of devices to proprietary software tools for probing circuit layout. In the past five years, the company has grown enough to attract hardware and software engineering executives from such local companies as Ramtron International and NeoCore.
An engineer's job at Taeus may jump from physical to electronic domains and back again. A recent analysis of the ink-dispersion patterns of inkjet printers involved studying ink distribution under a microscope, tying the patterns to specific algorithms and analyzing the circuits in the printhead for logic that might implement the algorithms.
Meanwhile, Taeus expertise has been tapped at more than 50 legal trials, including Atmel vs. Vitesse, Creative Labs vs. Cyrix, Harris vs. Nokia and Hyundai vs. NEC. Taeus' legal analysis and prior-art searches can cover devices ranging from mailing machines to MP3 players to the deposition machines used in semiconductor processing. Taeus chief technology officer James Adams said examinations can cover a range of process and device patents, implying detailed studies not only of the systems and components that make up a company's IP but also the manufacturing flows involved in defining the patents.
"We've had to hire multidisciplinary engineers, because you literally may not know what level you will be working on when you come to work every day, even if you're working on examining a single patent," Adams said.
Nutter and Adams are finding themselves involved in more than just legal decisions. As Taeus' business goes international, the executives are becoming vocal advocates within IP standards bodies for developing common patent methodologies among governments and supranational organizations.
"It goes without saying that many countries, with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as the obvious example, don't assign enough examiners to look at prior art and [thus] end up issuing some questionable patents," Nutter said. "But when you look at countries' individual patent processes, you realize there's a lot of nationalism that determines how patent decisions are made. We're a long way from international agreements."
This spring, Taeus is offering proprietary software suites to the open market for the first time. Taeusworks is a patent analysis system for reviewing portfolios, managing license procedures and organizing subject matter in a relational-database format. Taeus offers its own "claim chart" service of color-coding and deconstructing patent claims to ease the understanding of patents, and many elements of this service have been embedded in Taeusworks.
"We're hoping Taeusworks will be a revenue stream in its own right, but we also hope that standardizing patent management can bring consultancy business in the door," Nutter said.
For back-end analysis, Taeus relies on many of its own tools. Engineering program manager Michael Schuette developed an automated circuit reconstruction package, for example, based on a customized IC design and database program.