Back in September NVIDIA filed patent infringement complaints against Samsung and Qualcomm. The crux of the issue being that NVIDIA believes that GPUs from Qualcomm, ARM, and Imagination all violate several of NVIDIA’s patents. Ultimately after failing to come to a licensing agreement with Samsung, NVIDIA took the matter to the courts. Complicating the matter is that in the case of infringement there is uncertainly and disagreement over who would be responsible – the chip designer or the hardware vendor – which led to NVIDIA taking the especially risky step of filing the suit against both Samsung and one of their GPU suppliers, Qualcomm.

This is a case that will take years to resolve, but in the meantime given the high profile nature of the case and the powerful parties involved, there was a high probability that counter-suits would be filed in response to NVIDIA’s initial complaints. This came to pass last week, with Samsung filing a suit in US federal court accusing NVIDIA and system builder Velocity Micro of infringing on multiple Samsung patents and false advertising regarding the SHIELD Tablet (to the detriment of Samsung).

Overall Samsung’s patent claims involve 8 patents, with NVIDIA accused of violating 6 and Velocity Micro accused of violating all 8. Interestingly, the patents range from technical (cache control) to physical (“method for rolling a metal strip”), which is why NVIDIA is not being accused of violating all 8 patents since they are a fabless semiconductor firm. The inclusion of Velocity Micro is rather odd at first, and this appears to be a case of Samsung going after both the IP designer and the hardware vendor just as NVIDIA did with their initial suit against Samsung and Qualcomm. However, Velocity Micro is one of NVIDIA’s closest partners, and they are involved in selling systems containing the full triad of NVIDIA products: GeForce, Quadro, and Tesla.

As with NVIDIA’s initial suit it will likely take years to resolve Samsung’s suit if it goes all the way. More likely however this is a calculated move on Samsung’s part for if the two firms reach a negotiated settlement. By counter-suing NVIDIA over patent infringement, Samsung has the option to take NVIDIA to the bargaining table and cross-license patents as opposed to paying licensing fees, a significantly cheaper outcome to say the least. However all of this is contingent on which patent infringement claims are upheld and whether the two firms let their respective cases even go that far, as the two can always settle beforehand.

In the meantime this is likely not the last we have heard of this case. With the expected court date still years off and the US International Trade Commission conducting their own investigation, there is a lot left to happen before any of these suits reach a courtroom.

Update: NVIDIA has posted a response over on their blog. There is no new information, but in it they detail their intention to fight the Samsung suit and reiterate that they consider the SHIELD Tablet to be faster than the Galaxy Note 4.

Update #2: Velocity Micro was apparently caught completely off guard at the lawsuit, so it took a bit longer for them to respond. Randy Copeland, President and CEO of Velocity Micro, posted their official response today (11/12/2014). Of note is that Velocity Micro feels their inclusion in Samsung's lawsuit appears to be more of a legal tactic to get the trials moved into the Virginia courts:

"Samsung has decided to drag us in to its legal battle with NVIDIA purely for the purpose of claiming that the Federal District Court for Virginia's Eastern District here in Richmond, also informally known as "the rocket docket" by some, is a reasonable jurisdiction for their litigation. They tactically need Velocity, a Richmond company, to be part of this new suit so they can have a faster time to trial to counter their lawsuits with NVIDIA that are pending in those other courts. They are trying to beat NVIDIA to the punch on other fronts, but they are all too willing to throw a private company under the proverbial bus for their own strategy reasons."

Source: Law360 (via Beyond3D)

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  • testbug00 - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    yes, I think Samsung should have kept it to Nvidia... Leave Qualcomm to sue the manufacturer.
  • shm224 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    @testbug00: and nVidia should have kept it to Qualcomm?
  • shm224 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    @Samus : not sure if nVidia already patented the legal strategy -- I guess nVidia isn't that far behind Apple in this regard -- but as the bible goes, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth...
  • HisDivineOrder - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Samsung wants a better deal when they finally make a deal with nVidia. They're probably hoping to avoid being forced into a SOC deal with nVidia, which the failure to complete is probably the reason nVidia sued them in the first place. nVidia was probably used as the odd man out to compel Qualcomm to offer Samsung better terms on the SOC's that Samsung uses to fill in the gaps in their product line (since Exynos only does the high end and select high end devices at that). When nVidia finally figured out that Samsung never intended to actually go with nVidia (in a strategy of pitting smaller suppliers against larger ones to get better deals on parts not unlike Apple's longterm negotiating tactics), they were very frustrated. Samsung would have been a deal changer for them.

    That Qualcomm got yet another win was the last straw and nVidia decided suing Samsung might compel them to get on board in the way they originally said they would. Except Samsung is not one to be bullied (and neither is nVidia really), so a fight was inevitable.

    If nVidia's true purpose is to compel Samsung to use nVidia SOC's (or at least license Geforce technology into Samsung SOC's), then no settlement will work that doesn't include that. And if that's the case, then these suits will go to court.

    But nVidia suspects as I suspect that in the end it'll be cheaper for Samsung to license Geforce technology and not use it than to fight this in court. Samsung may do it anyway on principle because they don't want to get fleeced by any supplier with a decent set of lawyers.
  • chizow - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Good analysis, but there's definitely at least 3 positive outcomes for Nvidia:

    1) They are paid a licensing fee from Imagination, Qualcomm, Samsung and reduce their licensing fee to ARM and all parties go on in their current IP licensing deals with Nvidia getting an appropriate cut.

    2) They figure they are already paying Imagination or ARM to license IP that is infringing Nvidia IP, so rather than paying multiple times for the same IP, they just license their IP directly from Nvidia.

    3) They just outright purchase Nvidia's SoCs. Given the need for i-LTE in phones, this is probably not going to happen unilaterally, and if anything, Samsung will probably be even less reluctant to just buy Nvidia's SoCs.

    But in the end, Nvidia will have ended up in a far better position than they were before.

    The one big question mark in it all is why was Apple excluded? They currently license IP from Imagination. To me, this strongly hints at the possibility Apple is already in advanced talks with Nvidia to license their IP. Coupled with Jensen Huang's comments in their latest earnings call regarding licensing talks reaching "advanced stages", this wouldn't surprise me at all!
  • Samus - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Samsung doesn't need to use Geforce technology in a cross licensing deal. AMD and nVidia have had cross licensing and portfolio sharing since long before ATI was purchased, and neither company uses much of the others IP. The licensing deal exists simply for stability. Since the terms are not public, who knows how complex the cross license may be and what stipulations there are. It could be things like each company has access to implement the others IP after a certain period...who knows?

    But what is obvious is AMD and nVidia have always had very different architectures, with virtually no cross-over in features other than industry the licensing deal might be similar to AMD and Intel, who have exclusive access to each others IP for the sake of compatibility in the market, but obviously it takes one or the other quite some time to implement features.

    For example, X86-64 took Intel 2+ years to implement, and it took AMD 3 years to implement SSE4. Who knows how long it will be before AMD implements AVX and other Haswell exclusives.
  • Penti - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    AVX and FMA3 is supported since Piledriver. AVX is also supported since Jaguar as well as earlier Bulldozer. Excavator should support AVX2, BMI2 and RDRAND too.
  • testbug00 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    except, I would argue, Samsung would accept the licensing if it was a reasonable rate. Nvidia is suing because in their negotions Samsung failed to license and Qualcomm/Samsung pointed the finger at each other. Also, you're not looking at who fills Samsung's fabs with Apple going to TSMC for 20nm... I'm guessing it is Qualcomm.

    If the license for the technology was at a reasonable industry standard rate and the patents strong, I'm sure that Samsung would have licensed. I would guess at least one of those things is not true. Most likely the license rate Nvidia asked for... Nvidia's pricing is often premium. I wouldn't put it past them to try to have a premium licensing rate only because it makes them more money.

    Best reasonable outcome I can see for Nvidia is that Samsung settles on a industry standard fee. Best absolute case would be Nvidia wins in court and Samsung pays Nvidia's likely premium fee and also has to pay for Nvidia's legal fees.

    Worst case for NVidia is its graphics patents are all invalidated and it has to pay Samsung's legal fees.

    They've already had a bunch of problems... I highly doubt that threatening the company that gives Apple IP (hence, directly threatening Apple) is a smart move.
  • testbug00 - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    Good. Sue the hell out of them.

    While NVidia makes many great products (3D vision plesantly surprised me (and now I use it almost all the time)) their corporate methods of doing things leave a lot to be liked.

    I'm inclined to say that Samsung and Qualcomm are likely more in the right than NVidia in this fight. Granted, I'm sure all three of them have awful dark secrets and probably have accidentally or purposely infringed patents they do not own involving GPUs.
  • krutou - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    "I'm inclined to say that Samsung and Qualcomm are likely more in the right than NVidia in this fight."

    Based on what evidence?

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