It’s not often that a big company turns to their patents to help with litigation with other companies, but it seems like that’s how things are currently going on at Nvidia, which is taking Samsung to court in a patent lawsuit against Samsung and Qualcomm. The lawsuit is a pretty big deal because unlike the fight between Apple and Samsung over UI design, this is based on graphics technology that Nvidia claims hasn’t been licenses to either of the defendants. It could go much deeper than just paying Apple and fixing the Touchwiz user interface later on.
The devices affected by the lawsuit are in the Galaxy S and Note families, with a few custom versions made for American cellular suppliers added into the mix. This includes the Galaxy Note, Note Pro, Note 3, Tab S, Tab Pro, Tab 2, Galaxy S III, S4, S5, Infuse 4G, and the Samsung Illusion. Not only are many of these devices sold in the US, they’re also sold all around the world, with literally hundreds of millions of devices sold through to consumers.
According to Nvidia, the lawsuit pertains to come intellectual property that they use in all of their graphics designs, which includes the fundamentals of what makes up a modern GPU. Nvidia has chosen seven patents to be tested and analysed in the courtroom and has already made representations to the United States International Trade Commission to block any new shipments of the affected devices and to halt any sales of these devices in the continent until Nvidia has received the compensation it believes it deserves from these companies.
Below follow some extracts from Nvidia’s blog post announcing the lawsuit publicly.
“We are asking 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. We are also asking the Delaware court to award damages to us for the infringement of our patents.”
“We have spent more than $9 billion in R&D since 1993 when we began to build the best GPUs and the richest patent portfolio of graphics IP in the world. Our IP strategy is to earn an appropriate return on our investment by licensing our graphics cores and by licensing our patents. In each case, we start with a negotiation.”
“With Samsung, NVIDIA’s licensing team negotiated directly with Samsung on a patent portfolio license. We had several meetings where we demonstrated how our patents apply to all of their mobile devices and to all the graphics architectures they use. We made no progress. Samsung repeatedly said that this was mostly their suppliers’ problem.”
“Without licensing NVIDIA’s patented GPU technology, Samsung and Qualcomm have chosen to deploy our IP without proper compensation to us. This is inconsistent with our strategy to earn an appropriate return on our investment. We are now seeking the courts’ judgment to confirm the validity, infringement and value of our patents so that we can reach agreement with Samsung and its graphics suppliers.”
The patents themselves point to the specific make-up of Nvidia’s interpretation of a graphics card. Read on further below:
“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.”
It’s worth noting that as of this writing, Nvidia hasn’t yet brought a lawsuit to AMD or the former ATi for the same or similar reasons, but it is not illogical to expect them to store the judgments from this case up their sleeve, ready for whenever they feel another competitor in the desktop and mobile space threatens them. They could potentially bring the same lawsuit to Intel if they so desired.
This seems to have spurred from the failure of the Tegra program, which was initiated by Nvidia to put their Tegra 3 and 4 and eventually K1 hardware into phones made by big manufacturers like Samsung, HTC and LG or Huawei. Three years on from their initial reveal of Tegra 3, the company’s rollout in products that reached the market dropped from 41 with the Tegra 3 down to just six, with one of those being the Google Tango Android development kit.
The lawsuit will come to court soon. For what it’s worth, this is the first time Nvidia has ever openly laid a patent lawsuit claim against any other company. In past occasions it was the other way around, most recently with Intel finally relenting and renewing a license agreement between the two companies. You may remember that for about a year, Nvidia didn’t licence its chipset to enable SLI on Intel-based platforms.