SGI patent scare

Coconut did you read the Register piece?

I’ve already said I was being facetious, but there’s clearly a real unresolved full disclosure issue here. Feel free to rationalize it away in the manner of your choosing.

There’s not really enough information in the article to speculate on underlying business strategy, but I’d guess that it has something to do with Microsoft getting sick of having to pay SGI certain fees everytime they sell a copy of Windows.

Oh…and SGI has kinda been out of graphics for a while now, except for maybe Jon Leech and SGI’s ARB duties…SGI has a tiny slice of the server market, basically.

You know, I own the patent for when people hit the “reply” button to reply.
I demand code for payment.

Heh, seriously, I don’t think we have enough info yet. It really depends on what they got, and what they didn’t, and how long is left on the patent. I just hope it gets cleared up fast.

However, if gfx hardware guys have been told to write the checks to MS instead of SGI for use of OpenGL, then we could be looking at some intresting times.

How did you two get from ‘we don’t know enough’ to speculation about Microsoft owning OpenGL?

Microsoft pays royalties on OpenGL, not all the patents mentioned, it’s essentially a copyright license (maybe with some IP rolled in I don’t know I’m not too familiar with the license details?), AFAIK it’s not a per copy license, it’s a fairly standard OpenGL license. The actual dollar ammount is peanuts.

We don’t have enough information to know the details but we do have SOME information and the signs point to the NVIDIA designed chips in XBox not OpenGL. Let’s keep the s/n ratio high by remembering what we do know.

Kids, it’s fun to bash IP, but IP makes the tech world go round. Many tech companies, even those that make real products, have much of their real value locked up in IP.

And although I do think patents get misused due to USPTO incompetetence, and that software patents last way too long, they aren’t fundamentally all that different than copyrights. One protects the author, the other protects the inventor.

IP is a Very Good Thing ™. (The pun is unintentional.)

Don’t listen to those “information wants to be free” folk. Information is non-sentient and therefore wants nothing of the sort.

  • Matt

Originally posted by mcraighead:
… they aren’t fundamentally all that different than copyrights. One protects the author, the other protects the inventor.

Does Elisha Grey ring a bell ? ( the pun is unintentional ). I’m sure there are lots of cases where the wrong inventor gets the rights. Getting a patent means you were faster filing for it than the other smart people out there. The only problem I have with it is that most things are build upon other peoples research ( that may or may not be patented ) and then disallowing others to do the same without paying - that’s a legal way to steal.

Of cause I may be wrong

Careful Matt,

you might wake up one day to discover that all the patents you’ve ever filed have been sold to a large predatory monopolist.

I just realized that the link to the story which broke the news wasn’t posted at the start of this thread. Some readers might be wondering what the heck everyone is talking about. My posts have assumed everyone was on the same page after reading this, here it is incase you need to catch up:


I am a little concerned, do I take it that if MS bought the rights to OpenGL and if so. Now that they have it in the palm of their hand is it possible for them to clench their fist and crush it, and how long could this take. I say this because MS has no real interest OpenGL being in Windows or XBox. And I don’t for one-minute think they have and interest in any other platform that currently supports OpenGL.


Ok Matt,
so what all this mean for OpenGL future ?? Will MS be able to kick out OpenGL because of copyrights/IPs ownership ??
Honestly i don’t care about who owns this and that, i only care about OpenGL independance :wink:

Originally posted by mcraighead:
IP is a Very Good Thing

I have no slightest doubt about it.

But i think existence of law allowing abusing IP
is just as harmful for innovation, as absolute lack of law protecting IP would be.

BTW, where would be Nvidia now, if 3dfx was too expesive to buy out? (i mean the multitexturing case)

[This message has been edited by Carmacksutra (edited 01-18-2002).]

According to the article Microsoft has NOT bought the rights to OpenGL. They have bought some technology patents.

Any talk of Microsoft buying the rights to OpenGL is just baseless speculation. It’s probably irrelevant anyway, here’s why:

Even if they did, everyone could turn around tomorrow and start a project that was called Free3DG(for example), move the OpenGL 2.0 stuff over to that and get on with their lives. It could even be functionally identical to OpenGL 1.3 and initially use the SGI open source OpenGL implementation and the open source conformance tests (the tests are open source now right?). Owning OpenGL directly would be worthless to Microsoft, especially if they tried to kill it.

OpenGL licensees these days buy the name (trademark), and get stuff like the conformance tests which used to be otherwise unavailable. There is a waiver of some SGI patents in the OpenGL license I think, so it’s not totally clear cut, especially for new OpenGL licensees but existing licensees should have some rights. Other companies besides SGI occasionally waive I.P. rights when ‘donating’ spec proposals to the ARB.

In anycase the real concern now is how Microsoft will leverage their patents to influence IHV’s like NVIDIA and ATI.

If Microsoft had no hardware I’d be very concerned, because they’d be at least partially immune from the threat of a countersuit, but now they have XBox which is extremely high volume, if they demand royalties or dictate terms it might backfire now because everyone is stepping on eachother’s patents.

As for NVIDIA they can’t be pursued by Microsoft on the stuff they have already licensed from SGI, but the irony is that because NVIDIA built the XBox, it makes them more vulnerable to Microsoft’s unwelcome influence than other IHVs. They have no leverage to counter a threat over any unlicensed SGI patents sold to Microsoft that NVIDIA might use in future products.

They can’t countersue Microsoft, they designed the XBox for them!

I wonder what Matt will think of the virtues of patents if Microsoft start dictating terms behind closed doors.

[This message has been edited by dorbie (edited 01-18-2002).]

Originally posted by dorbie:
Even if they did, everyone could turn around tomorrow and start a project that was called Free3DG(for example), move the OpenGL 2.0 stuff over to that and get on with their lives.

Actually, all i’m afraid is this is what might be impossible.

It seems you can patent some primary feature like “alpha blending” algorithm:

The patent can be found here,…RS=PN/5,379,129

Wow, that’s what I call an “invention”. Check out that complex, non-obvious equation .

The fact that you use OpenGL or don’t does not protect you from someone’s patents. If Microsoft own the right I.P. they can sue you whether or not what you use is called OpenGL. SGI sued NVIDIA over their chip designs and they were an OpenGL licensee sitting on the ARB!

Nobody needs to run off and start a new OpenGL because Microsoft don’t own it as far as we know. In anycase they can’t recant some of the things SGI has already done with this.

The issue is not whether they own OpenGL.
They own some interesting graphics technology. The next question is how will they use it? We don’t know, but the Register is probably correct, it needs some oversight, but what’s new? There should have been some oversight when they scuppered the MCD release.

[This message has been edited by dorbie (edited 01-18-2002).]

Dorbie ok, some good points. I was speculating on the whole owning of OpenGL thing. But MS would surely like to own/destroy OpenGL then again I am looking at this from the whole windows and game programming angle and not the whole multi-platform OpenGL angle. What kind of revenue stream does SGI gain from OpenGL. Would they have cause to sell OpenGL i.e. would it be profitable. Then again if I were CEO of SGI I would want to keep OpenGL just for its brand name alone and the perception of quality it emits.

If MS was the sole owner of OpenGL I do think they could crush it. With the Nvidia example Nvidia must be making $50-70 (maybe I am being a little naive) on each Xbox. I would presume that Xbox will sell 10 million ish units world wide within its lifetime that is big revenue stream for Nvidia. When it is time to dev Xbox 2 I think MS will be able to ask Nvidia to stop being OpenGL compliant (drivers etc) without to much of problem this single stroke would go along way to crushing OpenGL.

Granted Free3DG (I Like that name, not to sure about the free bit though, that was a joke) would be possible if it were included with every app/game that needed it. Or as a download but it would be a big step back and every average Joe would not bother. That non mass-market penetration could spell the end. It would let DX move further and faster aligning it as the number one Graphics API. It goes without saying I hope this does not happen.

One Last Note – Big thanks to all the guy’s at Nvidia I just got myself a GeForce 3, a truly excellent product, my last card was a 3DFX Voodoo 5 5500 a great card but the Nvidia is a lot better. O and excellent dev resources I am so excited at what is possible with the GeForce 3.


You are all failing to see the real picture. I will give you a hint, it has to do with crop circles, and area 51. I can’t say anymore.

BigBrother IS watching!

Well, I just have to throw my thought into the fire:

in the EXT_fragment_lighting, EXT_texture_perturb_normal and other extensions dealing with per-pixel lighting and bumpmapping, there’s this statement:

To the extent that SGI has patent rights that are unavoidably
infringed by all implementations of this extension, SGI will, upon
request, grant a license under such patent rights to the requesting
party subject to reasonable terms and conditions, and without
incremental charge or fee. Such license shall be non-exclusive, and
non-transferable, and shall be limited to implementations of the
extension in combination with any conformance certified
implementation of the OpenGL API. Such license is expressly
contingent upon a grant back of a non-exclusive, royalty-free,
perpetual, worldwide license to SGI and its OpenGL licensees under
the requesting party’s patent rights that are unavoidably infringed
by all implementations of this extension or OpenGL.

Now the things SGI sold could include these things, but it all rumours, we’ll just have to wait.


There’s no patents on software in Europe anyway, so it’s only a USA and Japon problem (if this patents deal is about OpenGL)

Please allow me a personal message:

Eric, there is really a pb with your email:

When trying to deliver your message, the mail server at encountered
permanent problems with the following address:
For <>, could not connect to destination domain (, destination server denied connection

Reporting-MTA: dns;

Final-Recipient: rfc822;<>
Action: failed
Status: 4.4.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp; 441X could not connect to destination domain (, destination server denied connection
Last-Attempt-Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 21:14:18 -0000

I wrote fragment lighting application code using these OpenGL extensions and ran them on a simulator, the SGI OpenGL extensions are not how anyone delivers their fragment lighting today.

This means that SGI would not have been obliged to give anyone a free pass on their related patents. SGI offered this to influence designers to follow in their footsteps. The designers declined preferring to deliver a toolbox of lower level, more flexible but difficult to use extensions.

The SGI extensions were basically a monolithic approach which cloned the vertex lighting API for fragment lights, and let you replace various lighting terms with multitexture units. The bump map was a color vector map with the half bias sign everyone uses now, and the tangent and binormal was supplied at each vertex using the coordinate frame, the implementation did all the required vector transformations. This is already in the public domain in the extension details.

The underlying tangent space implementation ideas are documented in a siggraph 97 paper:

Efficient Bump Mapping Hardware
Mark Peercy, John Airey, Brian Cabral

The underlying ideas do seem to cover some aspects of current fragment lighting implementations. I’ll leave you to speculate on what SGI may or may not have claimed in patents they may or may not have filed.

It does raise the question of who violates a patent though. Because of the toolbox approach, all NVIDIA are doing is providing hardware capable of dot products using texture components, and other fundamental mathematical operations. It is actually game developers who go ahead and implement the ideas that might be coherently called fragment lighting, although NVIDIA encourages them to do so through samples and advice. If you wanted to sue someone over this you may have to go after game developers and publishers, not hardware manufacturers who merely support dot product operations per fragment. It depends on the patent claims and the legal implcations of encouraging developers through examples and support.

[This message has been edited by dorbie (edited 01-18-2002).]