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AMD sets defence against possible Intergraph legal action

Clipper patents rear heads again

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AMD has quietly taken legal action against Intergraph, the graphics company's Q4 results statement, released this week, reveals.

Earlier this month, it filed a Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA) patent action against Intergraph claiming that the latter's so-called 'Clipper' patents are invalid and, at the very least, not infringed upon by AMD's chips.

The move appears to have followed attempts by Intergraph to persuade AMD to license its patents, numbers 4,860,192, 4,884,197, 4,899,275, 4,933,835 and 5,091,846. Intergraph says AMD wasn't willing to do so.

The DJA appears to have been filed just in case Intergraph decides to follow the negotiations with legal action of its own. AMD isn't asking for damages.

The patents lie behind Intergraph's legal action against Intel, launched in 1997. The case was finally settled in April 2002 when Intel paid $300 million to the plaintiff. In return it was granted a licence to use Intergraph's technology.

Later that year, Intergraph began suing Intel's customers, claiming that the latter's licence did not extend to its OEMs.

Intergraph's patents were granted in 1993 following the development of its Clipper processor. The initial lawsuit centred on Intel's Pentium chip, but Intergraph also launched a second action targeting Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor. Two of the patents centred on what the company called "Parallel Instruction Computing". Intergraph argued that Itanic's EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture violated those patents.

It's not clear if AMD's own 64-bit technology has attracted the attention of Intergraph, or if the action centres on its 32-bit processors. The timing of the negotiations and AMD's legal manoeuvre suggest the former.

Could this, we wonder, be why Intel is suddenly keener to discuss 64-bit desktop computing? Here's some idle, unfounded speculation. Intel has a licence to Intergraph's technology, but AMD does not. While AMD is distracted into fighting off Intergraph - with potential injunctions against AMD product - Intel launches its own 64-bit x86 extensions and taps into the demand created by Opteron and Athlon 64.

We've no evidence that Intel is considering such a scenario, that Intergraph will realise AMD's fears and lob a lawsuit in its direction, or even that there is real merit in the graphics company's claims. But it appeals to the conspiracy theorist within us. Makes you think, doesn't it? ®

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