Business, Hardware

Will 2010 Be a Messy Legal Cesspool for Intel, nVidia?

Legally speaking, 2009 was not a great year for Intel Corp. Intel and NVIDIA?s spat over chipset licensing arguably has led to Intel being hit with a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]. BSN* has reported on Intel?s sticky situation however, independent findings on the matter have been published by Danish researcher and author Agner Fog on his website in an article titled "Will Intel be forced to remove the "cripple AMD" function from their compiler?"

It is interesting to note that Fog quoted BSN* in his article and corroborated many AMD supporters opinions: "There is something fishy about those benchmarks scores" as some computer enthusiasts do not feel certain benchmarks [or any benchmarks] are indicative of real-world performance. Fog explains the issue of using Intel?s compiler on non-Intel products and provides workarounds to improve performance on AMD and VIA CPUs. One of interesting quotes was confirmation of the statements made by Van Smith in our story – "However, the Intel CPU dispatcher does not only check which instruction set is supported by the CPU, it also checks the vendor ID string. If the vendor string says "GenuineIntel" then it uses the optimal code path. If the CPU is not from Intel then, in most cases, it will run the slowest possible version of the code, even if the CPU is fully compatible with a better version."

The drama does not stop here. In related news; Richtek has sued AMD and partners over alleged patent infringements. The situation is as follows according to a recent press release:
"Chip designer Richtek Technology Corp. (6286.TW) said Wednesday it filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission and a separate lawsuit with a district court in California against Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and four other companies for allegedly infringing three of its patents and misusing business secrets.
Richtek alleges Taiwan-based uPI Semiconductor Corp. and U.S.-based Sapphire Technology Limited, Diamond Multimedia Inc. and XFX Technology Inc. also infringed on its patents. The U.S. International Trade Commission informed the company that it began investigating the case, Richtek said in a statement. In the lawsuit against the companies filed with the California court, Richtek seeks an injunction and compensation, but the company didn’t disclose other details. Robyn Kao, a public relations manager for AMD’s Taiwan branch, said she couldn’t comment on the case."

What is very interesting is that Taiwanese Richtek Technology Corporation is not suing the parent companies – Sapphire Technology and XFX Technology are subsidiaries of PC Partner and PINE Technology Holdings Limited, neither of which are US-based. Also, Richtek won Intel’s Preferred Quality Supplier Award [PQS] in 2007. Could this be a sinister counter-suit by proxy ploy from Intel? The current answer is?doubtful because the fact that Richtek won a PQS award from Intel in 2007 does not prove anything towards such a link. But it is significant that the lawsuit is targeted at AMD?s arguably much more successful graphics arm and AMD?s board partners. This comes at a time when Intel has already settled with AMD over anti-competitive practices for $1.25 billion. The odd question is, why sue just those partners? What about the other AMD board partners?

These lawsuits raise some questions about nVidia?s business practices; namely nVidia?s The Way It?s Meant To Be Played developer program, PhysX and CUDA ? all closed development platforms. CUDA especially appears to be gaining traction, with nVidia beginning to successfully court large institutions ? including the National Taiwan University. Also in question is how this will nVidia?s bid for an x86 license or whether nVidia actually does have plans to purchase VIA?s microprocessor division away from Formosa Plastics Group, owner of this Taiwanese CPU and chipset manufacturer. NVIDIA is already steaming along with recently leaked plans to launch its Tegra 2 platform in the form of ChromeOS netbooks from Google. Will NVIDIA be allowed to keep their IP closely in hand, or will these legal proceedings open the door to even more cross-licensing?

None of the involved parties were available to comment, so in the interest of fairness and objectivity BSN* openly invites representatives of said companies to give a statement(s).  As always, we invite our readers to comment and share their thoughts.

We are very curious as to what changes a more fairly optimized compiler will bring to benchmark scores, pricing and possible resulting market share shift towards AMD or later NVIDIA?. One thing is certain, it appears that 2010 will full of interesting legal battles but it remains to be seen whether the landscape of the semiconductor industry will be permanently changed.