Nvidia tries to block Samsung Galaxy shipments over patent dispute

Nvidia has taken dramatic legal action against Samsung and Qualcomm in a dispute over patent rights. The firm has filed formal complaints with the U.S. District Court in Delaware and the U.S. International Trade Commission over the alleged infringement of patents covering fundamental GPU technology.

The firm's press release has a statement from Nvidia founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang explaining the reason for the lawsuits:

"As the world leader in visual computing, NVIDIA has invented technologies that are vital to mobile computing. We have the richest portfolio of computer graphics IP in the world, with 7,000 patents granted and pending, produced by the industry's best graphics engineers and backed by more than $9 billion in R&D.

"Our patented GPU inventions provide significant value to mobile devices. Samsung and Qualcomm have chosen to use these in their products without a license from us. We are asking the courts to determine infringement of NVIDIA's GPU patents by all graphics architectures used in Samsung's mobile products and to establish their licensing value."

As part of its legal action, Nvidia is asking the ITC to block shipments of a long list of Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets, including recent models like the Galaxy S5.

The lawsuits are directed at Samsung and Qualcomm specifically, but Nvidia has requested that the ITC stop shipments of Samsung devices "containing Qualcomm's Adreno, ARM's Mali or Imagination's PowerVR graphics architectures," according to this blog post by Nvidia's David Shannon.

As Shannon explains, the patents at issue cover some of the most basic concepts used in modern graphics chips:

Our 7,000 issued and pending patents include inventions vital to modern computing. We have chosen seven of those patents to assert in these cases.

Those patents include our foundational invention, the GPU, which puts onto a single chip all the functions necessary to process graphics and light up screens; our invention of programmable shading, which allows non-experts to program sophisticated graphics; our invention of unified shaders, which allow every processing unit in the GPU to be used for different purposes; and our invention of multithreaded parallel processing in GPUs, which enables processing to occur concurrently on separate threads while accessing the same memory and other resources.

Yep, Nvidia is asserting its ownership of the GPU itself, programmable shading, unified shaders, and GPU multithreading—and it's seeking royalties around these inventions.

It's a big risk to sue two larger companies and to test those patents in court. Presumably, the payoff could be quite handsome if Nvidia manages to persuade the court that its patents apply to practically any contemporary SoC for phones, tablets, or what have you. Obviously, if Nvidia succeeds, then this licensing push won't stop there. The firm would likely seek royalties from any company making computing devices with modern graphics integrated.

Time to pop some popcorn, folks. This should be entertaining.

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