Published in PC Hardware

AMD sues over stolen patents

by on06 February 2017

ITC called in

LG, MediaTek, Sigma Designs and Vizio have all been named in a court case in which AMD is throwing its toys out of the pram in a big way.

AMD has requested the United States International Trade Commission (US ITC) to investigate the matter and, if the ITC finds in its favour, ban products based on chips that infringe on AMD’s intellectual property rights.

LG, MediaTek, Sigma Designs and Vizio infringe three patents, two of which were originally filed by ATI Technologies (which AMD acquired in 2006) in early 2000s and one filed by AMD itself.

The patents cover fundamental aspects of contemporary graphics processing, such unified shaders (‘133), parallel pipeline graphics system (‘506), as well as a graphics processing architecture employing unified shaders (‘454). In addition, the lawsuit mentions an in-progress patent application covering GPU architectures with unified shaders (‘967) that is also claimed to be infringed by two of the defendants.

What might be a little worrying is that the defendants license their GPU technologies from third party developers such as ARM and Imagination. The reason those two are not being drawn is because it is harder to sue over an idea as it is to hit a physical product.

It is similar to action taken by Nvidia in 2014, where the company filed complaints with the US ITC over alleged patent infringement by Qualcomm and Samsung.

In that case the main issue was GPU patents, although Nvidia wanted to figure out who is responsible for patent infringement in devices like smartphones: the handset manufacturer, or the SoC manufacturer. That case Nvidia lost and the companies settled, but that was mostly because Samsung launched a counter-suit.

In this case one of the allegedly infringing products is MediaTek’s Helio P10 SoC for smartphones, which is used by certain handsets from LG (e.g., LG X Power). The chip features the Mali T860MP2 GPU licensed from ARM. Another SoC that allegedly infringes AMD’s patents is Sigma’s SX7 (STV7701) SoC for UHD TVs with HDR support.

AMD's complaint does not limit itself to named products and the case could ultimately go beyond the two SoCs, one smartphone, and several TVs.

Buried in the case papers, AMD did reveal one interesting fact. Samsung and GlobalFoundries have licensed its intellectual property covered by the ‘506, ‘454 and ‘133 patents, as well as the ‘967 application.

Samsung can use the IP in its Exynos mobile SoCs (up to the 10-nm Exynos 8 Octa 8895 that uses an ARM Mali GPU), whereas the Gloflo can manufacture the chips.

Last modified on 06 February 2017
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