Intel goes to court over nVidia licence

Four years after licensing its front-side bus specification to nVidia, letting the graphics company make support chipsets, Intel has gone to court to close off access to the buses that will be used on future PC processors.

Intel filed the complaint to the Court of the Chancery in the State of Delaware on Monday. Today (February 20), nVidia said the filing does not affect any chipsets it is currently shipping but noted that Intel is seeking to close off access to the bus that will be used for future processors that have integrated memory controllers, such as the upcoming Nehalem.

Chuck Mulloy, spokesman for Intel, said: “The suit seeks to have the court declare that nVidia is not licensed to produced chipsets that are compatible with any Intel processor that has integrated memory controller functionality, such as Intel’s Nehalem microprocessors and that nVidia has breached the agreement by falsely claiming that it is licensed.”

Intel and nVidia signed a deal in November 2004 to cross-license patents “spanning multiple product lines and product generations” that accompanied a “multi-year” agreement for nVidia to license Intel’s front-side bus technology.

Drew Henry, general manager for nVidia’s chipset business, claimed Intel is attempting to stifle competition. “The basis of all this is about Intel trying to slow us down on a lot of the new products that we have planned. The court filing is Intel attempting to redefine a contract that we signed with them four years ago. It is coming up now because we have had such great success, perhaps more success than Intel ever envisioned,” he claimed.

Although nVidia’s sales have suffered badly in the current recession, the company scored a significant win for its chipsets in Apple’s line or notebook computers. Henry claimed the launch of its Ion chipsets for the Atom range, aimed at the nascent netbook market, further rattled Intel.

Henry claimed that Intel’s court filing came as a surprise, filed during the President’s Day holiday in the US. “They informed us very late at night about it,” said Henry.

However, Mulloy said discussions over access to the bus interface to be used by Nehalem-generation processors had already taken place. “Intel has been in discussion with nVidia for more than a year attempting to resolve the matter but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. As a result, Intel is asking the court to resolve this dispute.”

According to Mulloy, Intel is not seeking damages or an injunction. “We simply want to resolve a dispute that has been going on for well over a year,” he said.

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