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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  • dragonsqrrl - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Personal biases...
  • Samus - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Seriously, wow...if you want to bash nVidia's business practices you need to go back to what they did to 3Dfx (which they were eventually cleared of) which was to devalue 3Dfx during bankrupcy to pickup their patent portfolio and IP for pennies on the dollar.

    As far as I'm concerned, they've been playing ball with ATI/AMD for a decade pretty clean. Each company cross licenses patents and IP and other than nVidia crushing it with Maxwell, things have been competitive and overall good for the consumer. AMD will have their turn in a few months when they release GCN 1.3 (2.0?)
  • dragonsqrrl - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Umm, wut?
  • chizow - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Hey I was as big a 3Dfx fan as anyone, but to say Nvidia was the direct cause of their downfall is a bit of a stretch. 3Dfx's postmortem can be attributed to overspending (fabs, lavish corporate events) and being late to market on their V4/V5 VX100 chips (which were ultimately uncompetitive even though I loved my Voodoo 5 5500), while Nvidia held to what we have seen them do for a decade since. Iterate and innovate.
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    How could nvidia "devalue 3Dfx during bankruptcy"? Hypnotize all other potential investors?
  • testbug00 - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Nvidia's corporate culture in does not appear to be very clean and takes any way possible to make money and raise the stock price.

    Their engineering is top notch, but, I have no respect for the people who decide most policies in Nvidia due to many cases of outright lying to the public, partners, and, crippling consumer chips to save a few dollars.

    I probably should say I don't think Samsung is any better, but, I do think that Qualcomm is. I would still approve this lawsuite as I highly doubt NVidia offered fair licensing terms... They are not a cheap company (which, is what licensing really is) and they demand top dollar above everyone else (and, in the GPU market, their products often deserve it)
  • chizow - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    So I guess you find it's OK for a company to just infringe and profit from your IP without appropriate compensation?

    I'm not sure what you consider fair licensing terms, I'm sure it is easy for Nvidia to say "how much are you paying Imagination and Qualcomm? Just pay us that" while Samsung is just saying "paying you anything is more than what we pay you now" so obviously, they are going to be reluctant.

    Finally, I'm not sure how you think Qualcomm is any better. I mean sure they bought AMD's Adreno mobile group some years back but its more and more apparent no IP or cross-licensing was exchanged there, or Qualcomm would most likely be excluded. More than likely, if forced to testify, Qualcomm is not going to have anything other than "the engineers we hired from AMD knew how to build a GPU" and Imagination is going to say "well we used to make tile-based renderer GPUs but everyone else went to a unified shader pipe, so we just copied them". Those don't really hold up too well in a patent infringement case where you're asked to y'know, produce your relevant patents.

    Patents in question and court filings are clearly laid out here:
  • testbug00 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    I'm sorry, but, until there is discovery and it is made public about internal communications in Samsung/NVidia/Qualcomm/others involved and also discussions between them on licensing, there is nothing to be said.

    What is "appropriate compensation" in whose terms? Nvidia has typically demanded a premium price for everything (good for them and profits/stock-price!) which has served them very well selling products directly to consumers.

    With licensing? I highly doubt they asked for industry standards rates. If they did, Qualcomm probably would have bitten the bullet to make life easier in its dealings with OEMS.

    If the rate was industry standard, Samsung/Qualcomm/etc obviously felt that the patents supporting the case were not strong enough to stand. In which case, said IP that is being "infringed" is not IP that should exist.

    Does my position make sense to you now?

    Anyhow, those are my assumptions, that will change given the discovery is made public and NVidia did not do what I assume they did. Until than, based on the history of the company, I have no reason to assume that they asked for standard rates.
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    What are these cases where they lied to the public and partners? As for "crippling their consumer chips to save a few bucks"? Even if this were true, how is it a shady business practice? But they aren't crippled to save a few bucks, anyway. They are crippled in order to allow market differentiation. If they only made consumer chips they wouldn't design or implement those features in the chips to begin with. And it's nothing unique to nvidia.
  • testbug00 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    They changed the material used on the chips that might have saved a few cents per chip. It affected many people. I had to take apart my laptop and lower the votlage by physically messing with the chip (T61 here) to lower its voltage and clocks to solve my problem.

    Than, blame "consumer use cycles" and bullshit like that.

    market differentiation is one thing, this was another. I don't think any chip vendor has had anything to this scale in the last 15-20 years, and, if it was on that scale, it was not to save a few cents per chip (which, does add up, I should note. Making it a great idea if the new solution does not cause problems)

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