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VIA sues Intel, claims ownership of Pentium 4 patents

All your P4s are belong to us...

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We were sure it would happen when we read on Saturday that Intel had finally set its legal dogs on VIA (see Intel sues VIA over chipset upset) over the chipset maker's use of Pentium 4 bus technology. Sure enough, VIA this morning announced it's suing Intel back.

As you might expect, the VIA action, launched this morning in both the Taiwanese court - a parallel action will be filed in the US later today - alleges anti-competitive behaviour.

More interestingly - not least because it's a sign of how nasty this thing is likely to get - it alleges of willful destruction of VIA property and patent infringement. VIA is seeking unspecified damages to cover its legal fees and any losses it suffers through the course of its own, and Intel's, legal shenanigans.

The patent infringement allegation appears to be a neat twist on Intel's own, since it alleges that the chip giant did not obtain "a licence from VIA for the Pentium 4 microprocessor or the i845 chipset".

Life before P4

This claim hinges on the intellectual property to which VIA gained access when it bought S3 Graphics - the graphics chip operation of the company that later became known as SonicBlue. Some years ago, S3 picked up a number of interesting processor patents from the remains of collapsed chip company Exponential. Intel later licensed some or all of those patents, and gave S3 access to P4 technology in return.

All's fine and dandy until VIA buys S3's graphics division. Intel argues that this purchase does not confer VIA with rights to use P4 technology. Naturally, VIA claims it does.

And, cleverly, VIA is using the same argument against Intel: that the chip giant no longer has the right to Exponential/S3 technology allegedly used in the P4 now that said intellectual property belongs to VIA.

This is, of course, purely a bargaining tool. If taken to its logical conclusion, the argument allows VIA to seek an injunction against P4 shipments. However, this is of limited to use to VIA, as sales of its own P4X266 chipset - the product Intel is suing it over - depend on sales of the P4.

That said, it's potentially a very powerful weapon for negotiation and provides both companies with a way out if the legal bills look like they're going to go out of control: they come together and license each others' IP.

The allegation of criminal, willful damage of VIA property is rather cheeky. It's a reference to Intel staffers' attempts to pull down VIA balloons at Comutex Taiwan last June when the chipset company launched the P4X266 (see Intel incensed at VIA inflatables). ®

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