The never-ending story of X86 patents expiration

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2023-09-17 15:30:03

Every couple of years, this story re-emerges, and everybody starts to talk about the upcoming expiry of x86 related patents. They were followed by several stories revolving emulation and the forthcoming flood of third-party implementations of compatible processors. But this never happens. Why?

Intel’s patents should have expired you would think. Intel released the 8086 on June 8, 1978. To preserve any available rights under non-U.S. patent law, Tech companies typically file U.S. patent applications just before the first public disclosure of the new technology. Let’s assume that they filled it slightly earlier that year. Now, it typically takes two years for that patent application to be issued as a patent, which brings us to 1980. This means that the patent would have expired in 1998 (the earliest filing date plus 20 years).

However, it’s not the case. We see some company releasing x86 compatible chip like Zhaoxin. But most of these chips saw the light of day after the FTC forced Intel to allow other companies owning x86 IP to undergo mergers and joint ventures. Hence disseminating, under specific conditions, the capabilities to build x86 compatible chips.

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