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Nvidia sues 3dfx over patents

'Tactical' lawsuit revenge for earlier 3dfx 'nuisance litigation'?

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Nvidia yesterday commenced legal action against 3D graphics chip developer 3dfx, alleging its arch-rival has been infringing a number of its patents for ages - since the days of the Voodoo 3, to be precise.

The suit, filed in the US District Court for Northern California, claims 3dfx products violate five Nvidia patents, all of which centre on speeding up the transfer of data between a 3D graphics card and the host PC, and thus improving the rendering performance of the system.

The patents in question are:

The final two patents were finally granted by the US Patent Office in February and July of this year; the others are somewhat older. That suggests Nvidia has been hanging on to them for some time, presumable awaiting the right time to set the lawyers onto 3dfx.

Nvidia will no doubt argue that it has only just discovered the alleged violation, but that argument is scarcely credible in the cutthroat world of 3D graphics, where competitors' technologies are quickly dissected and scrutinised. We might give Nvidia the benefit of the doubt when it comes to 3dfx's VSA-100 chip, but the Voodoo 3? It will have had that chip in bits in its labs for over a year, so old (in 3D terms) is that processor.

That suggests Nvidia's legal move is tactical, either to force 3dfx to cough up royalties or attempt to take it to the cleaners when it refused to pay up. We expect 3dfx and Nvidia to come to an arrangement on this one - patent cases like these are usually settled out of court, primarily because it's cheaper in the long run.

And let's not forget that, back in 1998, 3dfx tried legal tactics against Nvidia, alleging the latter's Riva TNT chip's multi-texturing capability owed rather too much to the Voodoo 2's own. Earlier that year, both SGI and S3 separately sued Nvidia for patent violations. Nvidia dubbed the 3dfx suit "nuisance litigation". Is it now trying the same thing against its old rival? ®

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