A patent infringement lawsuit filed last week by Nazomi Communications Inc. against ARM Ltd. could seriously slow the use of Java software instructions in handheld communications equipment.
More than 20 companies are currently licensing ARM 32-bit cores that include Jazelle Java software extensions. If the Nazomi allegation is upheld, these and other companies may find it difficult to continue using Java-enabled designs since ARM is far and away the leading licenser, according to industry observers.
Nazomi was awarded a patent in December 2001 for a Java hardware accelerator that translates byte code into native CPU instructions. The company is seeking a permanent injunction against ARM precluding further infringement, as well as unspecified damages.
Mukesh Patel, president and chief executive of Nazomi in Santa Clara, Calif., said his company and ARM had been negotiating since January but were unable to arrive at an out-of-court agreement.
Jim Turley, an analyst at Jim Turley & Associates in San Jose, said ARM's stature in the market and relatively deep pockets should calm company customers concerned about the suit, filed in the Federal District Court in the Northern District of California.
"ARM's bank account provides something of a safety net," Turley said. "If they were found guilty of infringement, they could probably settle the suit with money, and reach an agreement that would allow ARM customers to continue to work on their products."
Turley said ARM's and Nazomi's technologies are similar. But Ehab Youssef, general manager of ARM Inc. in Los Gatos, Calif., disputed this. Jazelle customers, he said, would enjoy uninterrupted design and manufacture of their products "because ARM uses an explicitly different approach."
As for any concerns that a successful suit may cripple availability of the Java-enabled chips, Nazomi's Patel said, "We provide chips that are ready to plug into wireless devices, so the customer base doesn 't have to worry about any exposure in that sense. It's not like there won't be a solution available."