The San Diego-based company, which is already involved in, alleges that one of its patents has been incorporated into the design of microprocessors running at more than 120MHz. As a result, Patriot asserts that it's entitled to royalties from companies that have made such microprocessors, or incorporated them into PCs, routers, communication equipment or other machines.
Patriot didn't identify the companies it sent letters to, but said they were some of the largest electronics companies in the world.
Intel has asserted that its chips do not infringe on Patriot's intellectual property.
Theoretically, the suit could be worth billions. Patriot claims that its intellectual property has been incorporated into $150 billion worth of chips. Patent experts contacted by CNET News.com said they haven't had a chance to evaluate the patent.
Patriot's claims revolve around a patent titled "High Performance Microprocessor Having Variable Speed System Clock," no. 5,809,336 in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
In microprocessors, time is kept by a vibrating crystal. In the early days of the business, processors operated at the same pace of the vibrating crystal. Microprocessors, however, started to move much faster than the crystal, requiring an internal mechanism to keep the two synchronized, Jim Turley, an independent chip analyst and a member of Patriot's scientific advisory board, said in February.
In the middle of last year, Patriot's executives determined they had a claim against PC makers using Pentium chips, Turley said.
The patent application was filed in June 1995 and granted in September 1998. It grew out of a patent application from August 1989.
Patriot has seen better days. Founded in 1987, the company specialized in embedded processors for communications and medical equipment. At its peak, the company had 32 employees.
Revenue came to $3,384 in the quarter ending in February, with a net loss of $976,000, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.