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Intel sues VIA over chipset upset

Before P4

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The P4 chipset phoney war is over: let the fighting begin.

In the red corner is Intel, which yesterday filed suit against VIA in the Delaware courts. The chip giant alleges that its Taiwanese rival and customer has infringed five P4 patents with its P4X266 and P4M266 chipsets. It wants damages and is seeking an injunction, presumably to halt manufacture.

In the blue corner is VIA, which has bated Intel for months over the P4 chipsets. The VIA argument, aired for months in public, goes like this: We don't need your permission to make a P4 chipset, we've got cross-licensing rights already through S3, remember, that company we bought last year. Go ahead sue, we'll win.

VIA and Intel have talked this year over explicit licensing for P4, but public pronouncements from the Taiwanese suggest that negotiations were, to say the least, half-hearted.

But now there is real live product from VIA and Intel in the works. VIA has signed up a clutch of Taiwanese mobo makers for its P4 chipsets, which went into volume production last week. It will indemnify customers against any legal action that Intel may undertake.

Intel next week launches the i845, its first P4 chipset to work with SDRAM memory. It has awarded licensing rights to chipset makers SiS and ALi, and graphics chipmaker ATI, in return for unspecified royalty payments. So why not VIA?

So why is this happening? Presumably VIA could afford the no doubt modest royalties demanded by Intel. And no doubt Intel could easily afford to waive royalties altogether with all its customers.

After all, Intel's overriding need is to sell as many chips as possible. Cheaper P4 chipsets (cheaper because they do not use Rambus RDRAM memory), wherever they come from, will help the cause.

But there's business and there's personal. The conclusion that we draw is that Intel and VIA simply dislike each other. A lot. ®

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