An administrative law judge from the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday found that NVIDIA Corp. infringed several patents of Samsung Electronics. The judge ruled that NVIDIA’s graphics processing units (GPUs) and system-on-chips (SoCs) infringed three fundamental patents that belong to Samsung. NVIDIA said that patents were outdated, but if the full agency finds that there was a violation, certain NVIDIA’s products could be banned in the U.S.

David P. Shaw, an administrative law judge from Washington D.C., found that NVIDIA infringed U.S. patents 6,147,385, 6,173,349 and 7,804,734. The patents cover an implementation of SRAM, a shared computer bus system with arbiter and a memory sub-system with a data strobe buffer. Some of the patents were granted back in the nineties and such inventions may be considered as fundamental technologies or may not be used at all by modern chips. One of the patents will expire next year, hence, it will not have any effect on NVIDIA’s business even though it was infringed.

NVIDIA’s lawyers in turn have said that Samsung had “chosen three patents that have been sitting on the shelf for years collecting nothing but dust.” NVIDIA hopes that when several judges review the case in the coming months, it will be found not guilty of patent infringement.

“We are disappointed,” Hector Marinez, a spokesman for NVIDIA, said a statement. “We look forward to seeking review by the full ITC which will decide this case several months from now.”

Samsung accused NVIDIA of infringing its patents in mid-November, 2014, two months after the Santa Clara, California-based developer of chips sued the Suwon, South Korea-based conglomerate. NVIDIA asserted that graphics processing units integrated into Samsung’s Exynos system-on-chips as well as into Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs infringe its fundamental graphics patents. NVIDIA asked ITC to ban sales of Samsung’s smartphones and tablets that use Exynos and Snapdragon chips, which allegedly infringed its patents, in the U.S. Samsung also asked the commission to stop sales of certain NVIDIA-based products in the U.S.

Last week a group of six ITC judges issued their final ruling concerning NVIDIA’s allegations against Samsung and Qualcomm. They found that Samsung and Qualcomm did not infringe two out of three patents of NVIDIA, whereas one patent was considered invalid. The ruling was very important not only for Samsung and Qualcomm, but for numerous other companies whom license graphics processing technologies from companies like ARM Holdings and Imagination Technologies, or buy SoCs from Qualcomm.

NVIDIA is the world’s largest supplier of discrete graphics processing units for personal computers. The company’s Tegra system-on-chips for mobile devices did not become very popular among makers of smartphones and tablets, which is why the company changed its SoC strategy in 2014 – 2015 to include going after vehicles, drones and other automotive applications.

NVIDIA Corp. has been trying to monetize its intellectual property by licensing its technologies and patents to third-parties starting from mid-2013. So far, NVIDIA has not managed to license its Kepler or Maxwell graphics cores to any other chip developer. Moreover, Samsung and Qualcomm will also not pay NVIDIA because they did not violate any of its patents, according to the ITC rulings.

The results of the legal fight between Samsung and NVIDIA are not final. Although the U.S. ITC found no violations by Samsung and infringements by NVIDIA, usually patent-related legal battles last for many years.

Image of gavel by Douglas Palmer, Flickr.

Source: Bloomberg

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  • 0razor1 - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    When will they ever give up.

    And review by 'full ITC' meaning this has no material impact right away?
  • CJ_Jacobs - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    NVIDIA picks fight, NVIDIA gets ass handed to them on silver platter, Samsung retaliates, NVIDIA gets ass handed to them on silver platter a 2nd time. NVIDIA unhappy.
  • WinterCharm - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    The problem with Nvidia is that they have incredibly anticompetitive practices, and a lot of blatant disregard for open standards, and a lot of measures to purposely cripple performance of AMD cards.
  • dagnamit - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    It's almost as if they compete in a market and want to make money. The horror.
  • siliconwars - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    They can't compete, that's why they are forced to resort to patent trolling instead.

    Seems like they can't compete in that either.
  • NeoteriX - Thursday, December 24, 2015 - link

    Uh, what? Two quarters ago, Nvidia beat expected earnings by over 100% and its current stock price is up over 50% what it was this past summer. I don't think the company is immune from criticism, but saying they "can't compete" when the market says otherwise is just plain ignorant.
  • Solandri - Friday, December 25, 2015 - link

    Nvidia does great in the PC GPU market. They are an also-ran in the tablet/phone GPU market.

    Basically, they've been dominating the GPU market by optimizing their designs for 15 years with little regard for power consumption. A new market springs up where low power consumption is important, and they fare poorly.

    Intel was caught in the same situation, except they've got a 1.5 generation lead over the rest of the fab industry in die shrinks, which is making their CPUs competitive with ARM on a performance per Watt basis. Nvidia is fabless, so they have to use the same lithography as their competitors, and their inexperience with low-power designs shows.
  • darth415 - Saturday, December 26, 2015 - link

    They don't need much experience in low power designs when their primary opponent (AMD) has significantly less perf/watt.

    A mobile gpu would tank in the personal computer segment anyway, my GTX 960m laptop is as thin as many ultrabooks, as thin as a laptop reasonably needs to be. I shouldn't have to tell you that I drive a 4k screen with power to spare, and even a few hours of heavy load battery life. Nvidia is doing just fine.
  • MrPoletski - Monday, December 28, 2015 - link

    AMD has no presence in the mobile GPU space (unsuprisingly). In that area Nvidia's competitors are ARM and Imagination Technologies. The latter have been making low power GPU's since the 90's and used to compete (favourably) with Nvidia in the desktop space.
  • MrPoletski - Monday, December 28, 2015 - link

    Left out Qualcomm...

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