Via files suit against Apple for patent infringement

Well, this afternoon has certainly been eventful. After the shakeups at HP and AMD, we now have news that Via has filed suit against Apple for patent infringement. The press release is compact, so I’ll give you the whole thing here:

Taipei, Taiwan, 22 September, 2011 – VIA Technologies, Inc, a leading innovator of power efficient x86 processor platforms, today announced it has taken legal action against Apple Inc., filing a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) and the US District Court of Delaware for patent infringement by Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV product lines, and associated software.

"VIA has built up an extensive IP portfolio consisting of over 5,000 patents as a result of significant investments in world class technology research and development," commented Wenchi Chen, CEO, VIA Technologies, Inc. "We are determined to protect our interests and the interests of our stockholders when our patents are infringed upon."

The patents at issue cover microprocessor functionality featured in Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV devices, namely:

· US Patent No. 6253312, Method and apparatus for double operand load,

· US Patent Nos. 6253311 & 6754810, Instruction set for bi-directional conversion and transfer of integer and floating point data.

If you’re scratching your head over why this is happening, let’s see if we can connect the dots for you.

Start with the fact that Via’s CPU subsidiary, Centaur, has some pretty fundamental patents on microprocessor technology. Those patents have been good enough to force Intel into granting Via an ongoing license to its x86 instruction set architecture. Next, consider that Via is run by Wenchi Chen, one half of the power couple behind handset maker HTC. Via even sold is S3 Graphics business to HTC earlier this year, moving things around while keeping them in the same family. Finally, recall that Apple filed suit against HTC for patent infringement a while back.

In all likelihood, this is, in a roundabout way, a countersuit—from a holder of some pretty strong, fundamental technology patents. Apple may have turned over the wrong rock in its legal assaults. This one should prove interesting to watch!

Comments closed
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    Ha, eat it apple. You try to bully your competition and you’ll get slapped in the face. I’m sad that these patents even really exist but this counter suite is quite gratifying.

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    VIA should just try to get back into major PC components again in a big way. Chipsets, audio (they still have codecs but they’re pretty rare), etc. Maybe try to get into the high performance CPU arena with Intel and AMD.

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      Via should just die. They have done nothing but acquire promising companies and kill them off. As far as “get into the high performance CPU arena with Intel and AMD” that would require more then what their current x86 license allows with many of the newer technologies not being included on it.

      I should also mention that their current license expires in a couple of years.

    • albundy
    • 8 years ago

    interesting to watch? its the best hysterical entertainment ever! …and i aint root’in for crapple.

    • ChangWang
    • 8 years ago

    I kinda see this as VIA tell Apple to “leave my boy alone”

    • Decelerate
    • 8 years ago

    I thought Apple’s IC was vanilla ARM with GPU in an all-in-one? Did they actually modify the design of the processors?

      • willmore
      • 8 years ago

      The Apple fanboys assert that the A5 is full of Apple magic. Most industry sources I find seem to think it’s a pretty lightly customized Samsung/Intrinsity design. Now that Intrinsity is part of Apple, maybe that makes their contribution the Apple magic then? Who knows, I don’t understand the RDF.

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    I just wonder how a company finds out that another company is using its technology. It’s not like VIA can open up an iPhone and every other device it thinks could be infringing its precious patents and peer deep into every square nanometer of circuit.

    Hmm, VIA must not be selling a lot of those Quad Cores and what nots lately. Looking for other areas of revenue…

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      Many of these patents will include a “method” or “device” claim written broadly enough that you can prove the validity of the patent by simply walking the device through a specific set of operations and then showing that the expected result is obtained. If necessary, you then also call a couple industry experts to testify that the operation would not be possible without a specific hardware operation underneath.

      In this case, Scott’s interpretation strikes me as the most likely: Apple hit HTC, so HTC called up his big brother VIA and asked him to harass Apple. In theory, VIA has patents that could probably tie up nearly any non-licensed vendor for years to come, even though they generally don’t operate that way, so this is probably a ploy to force Apple into a broad cross-licensing agreement with HTC.

      • just brew it!
      • 8 years ago

      They can figure out what chips it uses, and look up the data sheets for those chips. This doesn’t sound like they’re going after the actual implementation; they’ve patented a general concept, which is something you could figure out from the engineering documentation (possibly publicly available, but certainly at least available under NDA so people can design products with the chip in question).

      • notfred
      • 8 years ago

      In some cases they do exactly that, taking the top off the chips and checking them transistor by transistor e.g. [url<]http://www.ubmtechinsights.com/capabilities/analytical-capabilities/[/url<]

    • just brew it!
    • 8 years ago

    Ugh. Patenting general classes of CPU instructions is just plain absurd. I could see patenting a [i<]specific implementation[/i<] of an instruction set (e.g. the op-codes and their semantics), but as has already been pointed out VIA is x86 and Apple is ARM, so that can't apply here. OTOH I can definitely see this as VIA/HTC going "OK Apple... so you wanna play rough, eh?" OTOOH maybe VIA is making a Rambus play, and intends to become an IP litigation company. They sure don't seem to have much in the way of actual shipping products these days. At least, not products that get used in significant volume. I guess Asus (and maybe others?) still uses their audio codecs on a few of their motherboards? That's about it AFAIK. Meh. Just one more example of how our patent system is hosed.

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      I thought VIA still sells processor products into emerging markets, like China, and has some of their products running around inside of embedded systems and PoS-type systems?

      [url<]http://www.via.com.tw/en/products/processors/[/url<] They've pretty well ceded the US/Canada and Western European PC markets, to be sure, but they can't compete against AMD/Intel on in those markets. Elsewhere, lowest price matters as long as the device is basically functional. I still have a C7-based machine sitting around. It just barely inches past an Atom, but if you need a functional machine at bottom-dollar price, it does work.

        • just brew it!
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, you may be right about the emerging markets thing. Profit margins must be pretty darn slim on those though. Probably not much better (maybe worse?) than on those audio codecs they’re still selling to the mobo makers…?

          • EtherealN
          • 8 years ago

          Profit margin might be slim per unit, sure, but we are still talking about a potential market with 10 times as many consumers as the USA. You don’t need to have an extreme market penetration to stil end up having pushed more units in China, India etcetera than Intel is pushing in the USA.

          Also, embedded systems is a MASSIVE market. Over here, Samsung is a household name just like in most of the world, but the computer business is still smaller in revenue than the embedded-systems division; most people don’t notice that market though since you have to either work on it specifically or basically bust into some industry, break open a bunch of padlocks, and go read tiny logos on the couple thousand microcontrollers spread around the facility… A plant like that may have something like 100 employees, a total of ~40 PC’s, but thousands of embedded microcontrollers… HUGE market. 😉

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    I hope apple gets hit for a lot, the jerks deserve it.

    • crabjokeman
    • 8 years ago

    Next up: Intel sues Apple. Errrr, maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t know, folks. Don’t expect prophecies from me. I can’t keep up with this patent stuff.

    • Ryhadar
    • 8 years ago

    Talk about David and Goliath…

    And you thought AMD vs Intel was a lopsided fight.

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      Yes, but AMD doesn’t have a husband, they just wish they did.

    • DougG
    • 8 years ago

    If the ITC bans iPad and iPhone imports, that would finally draw enough attention and political capital to turn this ridiculous patent system around. Or at least the import-banning aspect of it.

    Welcome to Mutually-Assured Destruction, Apple. There’s a reason the big boys only use patents defensively, like nukes.

    Here’s how you fix the patent system:
    1. The invention must be truly innovative.
    2. Much smaller damage awards. (definitely no import bans, that’s ridiculous)
    3. Go back to first-to-invent, rather than first-to-file. (which really just encourages more filing)

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      5. Limit the patent length to 5 years.

        • phileasfogg
        • 8 years ago

        that’s the smartest thing I’ve seen written on techreport comments in weeks. In the fast moving world of semiconductor tech, it’s absurd that the same old 17yr patent validity period would apply. US Pat 6253311 was first filed in 1997. and granted in 2001. 1997!!

        And curiously enough, Via deems it appropriate to sue Apple when in fact the cited products all use ARM’s CPU cores and instruction sets. So why wouldn’t they sue ARM instead? And if they can sue Apple for violating these patents, it’s just a short step to then suing TI, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Marvell and on and on and on. Oh wait, HTC uses Qualcomm’s chips everywhere, so they wouldn’t sue them.

        Cupertino is much too smart to be snookered into being victimised by these submarine patents. Perhaps they got ARM to indemnify them before they agreed to use ARM cores in their CPUs?

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        we’re in the process of extending it further than 75 years past death. that’s one hell of a limit change! I’m for it, but i don’t see it happening in the current system. This entire system is borked, time to do it all over.

          • Prion
          • 8 years ago

          You’re confusing patent and copyright. To be fair, both systems have failed to keep pace with reality.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            ya, you’re right, wasn’t paying attention.

        • DougG
        • 8 years ago

        This idea is tricky. Some inventions, especially the truly innovative ones, take years of research and billions of dollars.
        Maybe lower the length to 10-15 years, decided by the patent office on the merits of the invention. Tech patents would be closer to 10, drug patents closer to 15, as a general rule.

        Rather than lower the patent length too much, maybe point #2, smaller damage awards, could be “smaller and declining (over the lifetime of the patent) damage awards”.

          • Deanjo
          • 8 years ago

          Not really, another criteria that should be required before any patent is granted is [i<]a working physical proof of concept. [/i<] This would get rid of a crap load of patent troll outfits. You should not be able to patent something that has not been proven.

          • willmore
          • 8 years ago

          Actually, drug pattents need to get *longer*. The reason we have all of the silly ED and other ‘lifestyle’ drugs are those the ones they can make more money on. It takes a lot longer drugs targeting less common conditions. The number of drugs that I know of which were abandoned part way through development because it became clear that they wouldn’t reach the market/be on the market long enough to justify their development and testing costs is depressing. And *most* of those are actual meaningful drugs, not just more penis pills, etc.

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            That still does not justify why my migraine medication which effects a large percentage of the population warrants $150 price tag for 3 days worth of medication (6 pills). Had the patent ran out one would be able to easily pick a months supply for the price of a bottle of aspirin.

            • willmore
            • 8 years ago

            Because:
            A) it doesn’t effect a large percent of the population
            B) it’s exceedingly expensive to develop a drug production process, but cheap to run.
            C) the generics don’t have to pay any of the huge costs that it takes to do the trials necessary to get the drug approved.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            The purpose of business should be to improve the lives of humanity first, and foremost. If you can do it, as efficiently as possible, meet all the required needs, and make a [i<] profit [/i<] great, but a business has a responsibility to serve mankind. It needs to be able to justify its existence, if it's something that is able to justify a profit, a luxury for example, which isn't necessary, fine, but for things like medicine, they need to keep the price at a point to pay for what's required, turning a profit is morally wrong. people's live depend on it.

            • willmore
            • 8 years ago

            Is this just a rule for the Pharma companies or is this a general rule? Because, last I heard, the only responsibility a for-profit corporation had was to *make a profit*.

      • lilbuddhaman
      • 8 years ago

      If companies could not patent incremental “innovations” then they wouldn’t be able to make money on their products. The moment their idea gets sent to their overseas manufacturers, they would turn around produce a knock off version immediately and sell them at the same pace as their flagship product, in the US, for a cheaper price (especially since they had to pay ZERO money for R+D).

      Limiting the patents to 5 (or maybe better 10) years as Deanjo suggested would work much better.

      first to invent (with proper proof) is def. the better idea.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        what’s wrong with foreign companies making “knock off” products? let the original produce innovate, and continue innovating. by “innovating” you’re first to market, and for a short time, have a monopoly. use that time to secure market share, whilst you continue innovating.

          • khands
          • 8 years ago

          This is counter to start ups though, they don’t have the monetary or marketing muscle to build a real marketshare without the big guys building a duplicate and advertising the hell out of it in this scenario.

            • Scrotos
            • 8 years ago

            Yeah, it’s like if you had a had a new product being sold in a local farmer’s market and then Walmart got wind of it and made their own version and sold it in every one of their stores. It’d kill you as a company and your product would have no brand recognition compared to a giant like Walmart.

            Patents do have value for protecting those who don’t have money and power. In theory it’s like laws, they are supposed to be a bit of an equalizer in society. But yeah, there are flaws…

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            that’s a valid point. We have a similar issue now, where we have walmart doing R&D and using their muscle and $ to corner the little guys. the decline of small businesses in north america shows the current system isn’t working either.

        • DougG
        • 8 years ago

        You’ve got a point, maybe simpler inventions deserve some protection after all.
        Maybe the damage award should be proportional to the innovativeness of the invention.

        But I’d sooner see a drastic reduction in the number of patents granted. We’re currently granting hundreds of thousands per year. (!!) How can one possibly know if your product infringes somebody’s patent? It’s not reasonable to read them all.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Go Via go.

      • My Johnson
      • 8 years ago

      No.

      • crabjokeman
      • 8 years ago

      Die, VIA, die.

    • puppetworx
    • 8 years ago

    Looks like I went to work in the wrong industry – I should’ve been a patent lawyer.

    • Vasilyfav
    • 8 years ago

    Good, I hope Apple gets sued by as many companies as possible. At least they’ll be forced to give cash to other companies instead of just sitting on it and monopolizing the market.

      • sschaem
      • 8 years ago

      They have good layers… look at what happen in Germany.

        • PenGun
        • 8 years ago

        So that’s how they do it. 😉

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, Steve?

    Somebody clearly didn’t think stuff through. This would be the same group that didn’t sue Palm (later HP) even when they came out with the clearest competitor to the iPhone and then iPad, precisely because they had the patents to a) sue back, and b) make it hurt. Maybe they shoulda talked to Kevin Bacon about how many degrees of separation they had…

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