How a stupid patent killed off one of the most innovative computers and company, the Commodore Amiga.

Before I go to bed, to continue on the Amiga theme (caused because +Matt Mastracci brought up Babylon5 which was produced using Amiga Video Toasters early on), hear the tale of how a patent on Exclusive OR (XOR) killed Commodore by killing off their cash cow on the eve of success.

Now, there are many reasons for Commodore's ultimate demise, the company was poorly managed and was on the ropes several times, but had an awesome engineering team that continued to churn out innovations in hardware and software.

A long time ago, Commodore introduced the Amiga 1000, a revolutionary computer, in 1985: hi-res color graphics, 4096 colors, playfield and sprite hardware, hardware blitter, a video co-processor, 16-bit sound, and a true preeemptive multitasking mouse-based OS. It was based on what became known as the Amiga Chipset (Agnus, Denise, and Paula) responsible for its graphics and sound.

Commodore later introduced a cheaper version (Amiga 500) and a more expandable desktop version (Amiga 2000) using the same chipsets, and for awhile, the Amiga stagnated. Things changed when Commodore introduced the Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) chipset, and with it, the Amiga 600 and Amiga 1200.

But by then, the PC world had started to catch up, VGA graphics were already displaying a palette 262k colors at higher resolutions (albeit, they had no sprites or special playfield hardware). Commodore realized that the AGA chipset would make a really great games system (they had tried and failed with CDTV), and created the Amiga CD32. (

It seems they pretty much "bet the farm" on CD32, depleting most of their cash reserves, but their instincts seemed to be on the right track, as they would have beat the PlayStation to market by 2 years, enough time to build up a sizable base.

There's just one problem: a judge ruled in favor of an injunction preventing CD32's from being sold in the US, as a result, huge inventory for an American launch piled up in the Phillipines.

Why the injunction? CadTrack held a patent for the XOR cursor, won in court, and Commodore was forced to pay up $10 million (which it apparently didn't have), and because it didn't pay up, the judge banned the CD32 from sale. Of course, like throwing a debtor into debtor prison, they couldn't sell the stockpiled CD32s for the US to pay their bills, money which they also wanted to use to pay the Phillipine factories.

Commodore thus, was forced to declare bankruptcy, the beginning of the end.

But where would we be if companies were prevented from "protecting" the "massive amount of research and development that goes into software patents", because, um, Exclusive-OR is so kick ass, everyone should be paying CadTrack for the huge innovation they developed.

As Will Ferrell said, sometimes I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!
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