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Sun gains Java-chip licensee

Parthus Technologies, which licenses chip designs to companies building Internet devices, is the latest business to license Sun's Java technology for small computing gadgets.

Parthus Technologies, a company that licenses chip designs to companies building Internet devices, has become the latest business to license Sun Microsystems' Java technology for small computing gadgets.

Parthus, based in Dublin, Ireland, creates chip designs that others can use when building portable gadgets such as handheld computers or mobile phones. In May, Parthus acquired Chicory Systems, an Austin, Texas-based company that developed chip designs for translating parts of Java programs into the native language of a processor and storing the most frequently used instructions.

Parthus now has signed a license that will allow it to use Sun's steaming-cup-of-coffee Java logo on its products, said Kent Nutt, director of product marketing for Parthus' acceleration business unit.

The deal was awkward to negotiate at times because Parthus' technology didn't match up with Sun's licensing structure, Nutt said. "It took a while to get through all the contracts," Nutt said.

Parthus' chip designs translate Java instructions without actually executing them, Nutt said. Sun's licensing terms are geared more for companies with "virtual machine" software or hardware that actually runs the Java programs. Parthus' technology works alongside other companies' virtual machines, Nutt said.

Overall, though, the company believed it was important to be able to use the Java logo, Nutt said.

Java is software developed by Sun Microsystems that lets programs run on a variety of devices, regardless of what operating system or type of chip the device relies on. Different versions of Java are available for machines such as cell phones, desktop PCs and servers. Parthus is one of a host of companies developing chips to accelerate Java running on smaller devices, which often lack sufficient CPU power to handle the extra computing burden.

Sun hopes its Java environment will spread across the computing landscape so programmers write for Java devices rather than Windows devices. At the same time, Microsoft is working to spread versions of Windows equally broadly to cell phones, set-top boxes, cars, servers and handheld computers.

Sun has made progress spreading Java to cell phones, though those phones currently have only limited abilities. The company hopes the effort will be boosted by a June agreement with ARM Holdings, one of the major makers of CPUs for cell phones.

Parthus' acceleration business unit focuses on selling chip designs that speed up various computing operations. The company licenses a core acceleration engine with various modules, Nutt said.

One module available today speeds up Java; another speeds up the display of PNG or GIF graphics, interpreting the HTML language used to construct Web pages.

Later this year, or early in 2002, the company hopes to have a module ready that can decode MPEG video streams, Nutt said. And in 2002, the company hopes to have a security module that speeds up encryption and other security tasks.

Licensing the core engine and the Java accelerator costs about $1 million, of which the Java component costs about $300,000 or $350,000, he said. Royalty fees vary from pennies per unit to about 30 cents.