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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  • Yojimbo - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    Well I don't think you should have called it "crippling consumer chips". Maybe "cheap manufacturing which caused problems" would be more clear, because "crippling" implies intent to harm/reduce the effectiveness of, in my mind. And how did they outright lie to the public and their partners? But this is one case and you said "many cases of..." What are some others?

    Defects happen all the time in manufacturing, and from what I just read, the way NVidia handled the issue seems to be par for the course. They took a ~$250million write-down to cover warranties, replaced the product in their market line-up, and defending themselves from a dozen class-action lawsuits. You're right, though, that chips don't often get mass produced with such significant problems, but it's funny that you limited your comparisons to the last "15-20 years" when the Pentium bug is now just over 20 years old.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    NVIDIA has more GPU patents than any other company, and with good reason. I don't think you could build anything even remotely like a modern GPU without infringing in some way, and whether or not you agree with the patent system, NVIDIA did create much of the underlying framework for GPUs. Samsung basically hasn't done much at all in that area, and it's not like NVIDIA has been going around suing tons of companies. They're good at what they do, plain and simple.
  • ET - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    "it's not like NVIDIA has been going around suing tons of companies"

    Samsung is just the low hanging fruit. If NVIDIA wins there it will go on to demand licensing fees from all other companies on the market using Qualcomm chips.
  • chizow - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    I don't know about low-hanging fruit...maybe the 800lb gorilla in the room. Coming to terms with Samsung, Qualcomm, Imagination and ARM will set the framework for everyone else, so of course it makes the most sense to go after this group first. The one curious exclusion to me however is Apple, which makes no sense at all to me unless

    1) Nvidia didn't want to go after Apple with their fleet of lawyers (Samsung is no easier in this respect however)

    2) Nvidia didn't want to damage their other business with Apple without a settlement from Samung in place first (not that likely since Apple has increasingly retracted from Nvidia in their products).

    3) Nvidia and Apple are already negotiating a licensing agreement, terms pending conclusion of the litigation with Samsung et. al., so they were excluded from this lawsuit.
  • shm224 - Friday, November 14, 2014 - link

    1) but Samsung is a foreign company. nVidia can easily win if they play xenophobia card right -- as Apple lawyers did with Samsung in 2012 (and was warned by the presiding judge). Apple is also a politically well-connected US company.

    2) do you know how much business nVdia is doing with Apple? I'm guessing their licensing revenue can easily dwarf that of graphics card sales to Apple.
  • squngy - Thursday, November 20, 2014 - link

    I don't know about recently, but in the past apple was nVidias biggest single customer.
  • Samus - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    They've also been very smart about picking up IP (3Dfx) as well as cross licensing with other GPU architects. ATI/AMD has also been smart about picking up IP (ArtX, Terayon, Cirrus Logic, etc.)

    Meanwhile, Samsung doesn't even pay for licensing let along buying up IP. They battled Microsoft for years to avoid paying licensing to sell Android phones, a license every other OEM pays, and I still don't know if this is resolved.

    This is all VERY different than Apple vs Samsung, which are mostly frivolous design patents. Apple was also unwilling to license, so Samsung was screwed.
  • shm224 - Friday, November 14, 2014 - link

    @Samus : sounds like you don't know much about the Microsoft lawsuit.

    Samsung did pay all their licensing royalty $1+B for the fiscal year 1 (2012) and 2 (2013) -- Microsoft is suing Samsung for the late interest fee, or mere $6.9M. Samsung claims their "business collaboration agreement" (BCA) with Microsoft is essential part of the patent licensing agreement (PLA) and Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia necessarily breaches their BCA and nullifies the whole PLA. Samsung is asking the court to terminate their PLA.
  • chizow - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    Have you even bothered reviewing the patents involved? If so you'd see you're wrong here, Samsung, Qualcomm and even Imagination don't have a leg to stand on. The first hearing will ask them to put their relevant patents on the table, and these companies have none.

    That's why Samsung's return salvo is to counter-sue with completely unrelated IP of their own while bringing in one of Nvidia's minor manufacturers into the equation. They are simply trying to mitigate their exposure and prevent any injunction on the import and sale of their products in question in the US.
  • shm224 - Friday, November 14, 2014 - link

    @chizow : Sure, Samsung doesn't have to bring any GPU patents to counter-sue nVidia, that's not a legal requirement. Samsung just needs to prove that nVidia and its partner infringes on their patents.

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