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Driving the unlicensed bus

Intel sues, Via sues — we explain what it's about

Intel has decided to sue Via after all over alleged patent infringement. But Taiwanese chipset manufacturer Via Technologies today filed a series of counter lawsuits against Intel, the world's largest chipset maker, for patent infringements and wilful destruction of Via technology.

"Starting today, Via will begin filing a series of patent infringement lawsuits in Taiwan and US courts seeking damages and injunctive relief," said Richard Brown, Via's marketing director.

Last week Intel accused Via's P4X266 and P4M266 chips of violating five patents associated with Intel's Pentium 4 processor, which Via denies. Intel claims Via is using bus technology without a licence.

"We don't, as far as we know, infringe any patents and we will vigorously defend the claims in court that Intel is making against us," said Brown. Intel was not willing to comment.

Via claims its purchase of the graphics division of S3 (the company responsible for granting Intel's chipset licences) gave it the right to use P4 technology. It also alleges Intel did not obtain a licence from Via for the Pentium 4 microprocessor or the i845 chipset. The company maintains Intel does not have the right to use any S3 technology without Via's permission.

But Intel disputes this, claiming it holds the Pentium 4 and corresponding chipset licence, which has not been granted to Via.

The patents that Intel claims Via is using without a licence centre on bus technology. The bus is the system by which all the components in a PC communicate. If the processor and memory are locations, then the bus is the road that connects them and enables messages to get from one to another.

The Via P4X266 chipset provides DDR (double data rate) RAM support to the P4 platform. Standard SDRAM has been in use since the days of the original Pentium and, as such, wasn’t designed for the >1GHz chips we have nowadays.

The next memory standard could prove to be incredibly profitable for the designer and there there have been many contenders for this crown. The two current options are Rambus and DDR RAM. Intel favours Rambus, but many developers are averse to it due to the high royalty costs involved. Working with DDR RAM is relatively cheap in comparison.

Although Via has stated that it respects intellectual property, it maintains it does not require a licence to develop for the P4, either due to the licences it holds through S3 or areas where it simply does not require a licence at all. Can anybody develop a chipset for one of Intel’s processors or does Intel have the right to control what they do?

If Via is successful in delaying shipments of Intel's P4 microprocessor sales of its own chipsets will also suffer as they are linked directly to the success of the P4, which puts Via in a Catch 22 situation.


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