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Real 3D targets ATI with patent suit

Patent appears to cover every 3D accelerator card

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Graphics hardware market leader ATI was yesterday slapped with a patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets suit by rival graphics specialist Real 3D. Real 3D's suit claims ATI, which commands over 70 per cent of the graphics chip market, has infringed two of its patents which cover the use of 3D graphics products in PCs and workstations. The company also alleges that ATI poached "key Real 3D engineering staff" in order to gain access to its trade secrets and thus compete with it unfairly. The suit, filed in the Orlando, Florida District Court, demands ATI be barred from selling infringing products. Real 3D is owned by military-industrial combine Lockheed Martin, but Intel and SGI also hold 20 per cent and ten per cent stakes in it, respectively. The Intel connection was based on Chipzilla's decision to hire Real 3D to create its i740 graphics card, designed to promote its then new AGP technology. Real 3D also develops graphics chips for Sega. Real 3D was formed in 1996; ATI has been in business since 1985. The patents in question are 4,727,365 (a computer video image generating system including a computer memory having 3D object data stored therein employs an advanced object generator for retrieving and processing the object data for output to a span processor for controlling the pixel-by-pixel video output signal for a video display -- the advanced object generator includes a translucency processor, an edge-on fading processor, a level of detail blending processor and a bilinear interpolator for texture smoothing) and 4,095,164 (a method for modulating color for effecting color cell texture). The second patent is pretty abstruse, but the first maps out the core features of any 3D graphics card, so it could affect every chipset ATI offers. Curiously, the patents were both filed in 1986 and granted in 1990 and 1988, respectively, and assigned to GEC. It's not clear how Real 3D came across them, presumably through its parent, Lockheed Martin. It certainly seems that Real 3D's description of the patents as its own "pioneering" technology is stretching the point a tad. ®

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