ITC Judge: Samsung Did Not Infringe on Nvidia Graphics Chip Patents
Samsung last week cleared a hurdle in defending itself in an ongoing patent dispute. In a ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), Samsung Electronics was cleared of wrongdoing regarding its use of graphics chip technology owned by Nvidia Corp., but the South Korea-based company isn’t quite out of the woods yet.
Administrative law judge Thomas Pender said Samsung did not infringe on two Nvidia patents, ruling that none of three graphics processor units licensed by Samsung -- Qualcomm’s Adreno, ARM's Mali and Imagination's PowerVR -- infringe on Nvidia’s vertex processing patent, or on the company's patent on multithreaded execution of programs.
Also at issue was a third patent, Nvidia’s shadow mapping technology. In that case, the judge ruled that all three GPU families infringe on the patent -- but that the specific claim on the patent by Nvidia was invalid because it was not a new invention compared with previously known patents. Because of that ruling, Samsung cannot be held liable for violations of an unenforceable patent.
Another Ruling Coming
A Nvidia spokesman said that the ruling has yet to be reviewed by the full six-member commission, which is set to make a final determination on the matter in February. Nvidia wants the commission to review Pender’s initial determination and to confirm a previous judgment of the U.S. Patent Office -- that the third patent is valid. If they agree, the ITC could issue an order keeping Samsung from importing some mobile devices and smart TVs into the U.S.
"This initial determination is one more step in a long legal process," said David Shannon, Nvidia's chief administrative officer, in a blog post.
Nvidia said that it invented the first graphics processing chip and released it in 1999. Nvidia had filed a complaint with the ITC just over a year ago against Samsung, Qualcomm and Imagination Technologies over GPU technology. At the same time, Nvidia sued the companies in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware.
At that time, Nvidia asked the ITC to block shipments of Samsung Galaxy mobile phones and tablets containing Qualcomm’s Adreno, ARM's Mali, or Imagination's PowerVR graphics architectures. The Samsung devices using those GPUs include the Galaxy Note Edge, Note 4, and Note 3, and Galaxy S4 and S5 smartphones. Nvidia's Tegra mobile processors have GPU functionality, and compete with Qualcomm's Snapdragon and Samsung's Exynos chips.
The ITC can stop the importation of products that it finds infringe U.S. patents. Lawsuits at the commission level are often used for that purpose, while suits in district court are used to win damages.
Samsung countersued Nvidia last November in federal court in Virginia, claiming that Nvidia and other companies violated four of its patents related to its own graphics processing technology. It also accused Nvidia of practicing false advertising for saying its Tegra K1 is the fastest mobile processor in the world, when in fact, Samsung said its own Exynos 5433 processor is faster.