VIA lawsuit seeks to block Pentium 4

VIA technologies today filed a lawsuit alleging that Intel's flagship processor violates a key VIA patent, and asking for shipments of the Pentium 4 to be stopped

Taiwanese chip maker VIA Technologies stepped up its legal battle with Intel today, filing a lawsuit that seeks to halt sales of Intel's flagship Pentium 4 processor.

VIA and its subsidiary Centaur Technology filed suit against Intel in the Federal District Court for the Western Division of Texas (Austin Division), where Centaur is based, alleging that the Pentium 4 violates a Centaur patent. The lawsuit seeks to stop sales of the Pentium 4 and requests that monetary damages be paid to VIA and Centaur.

The action follows a barrage of suits filed in Taiwan earlier this month, in which VIA alleged that Intel illegally pressured motherboard makers not to buy VIA's Pentium 4 chipset, and that Intel employees destroyed promotional materials -- such as balloons -- advertising the chipset.

The Texas lawsuit claims that the Pentium 4 violates VIA and Centaur's US Patent Number 6,253,311, jointly owned by the two organisations, which deals with formats in which numeric data may be stored on a microprocessor.

VIA said the move was designed to protect the company's rights as it moves from chipsets into the microprocessor market. "Filing this lawsuit is the first step in protecting our intellectual property rights," said Richard Brown, VIA's director of marketing, in a statement.

VIA purchased Centaur from California-based Integrated Device Technology in 1999. Centaur technology powers the C3 processor, launched on 10 September.

The lawsuit is part of a response to an Intel lawsuit against VIA, which alleges that a VIA P4X266 and P4M266 chipsets violate Intel patents and are not protected by a licence. VIA contests the allegations.

Lawsuits between VIA and Intel are nothing new. The two companies have long coexisted uneasily, with VIA alternately acting as one of Intel's main competitors in the chipset market and as an Intel partner.

Intel filed a series of lawsuits against VIA in 1999 after the latter came out with a Pentium III chipset. VIA, which saw its sales boom with the new chipset, alleged that Intel was merely trying to clamp down on a successful competitor.

That suit was effectively settled in July 2000. In the new lawsuit, Intel alleges that Via does not have a licence to build a Pentium 4 chipset.

Via disputes this, citing a convoluted series of deals that it says do give it the necessary rights. Intel originally signed a licence with S3, which morphed into Sonicblue. Subsequently, Sonicblue and Via created a company in the Cayman Islands called S3 Graphics. Via is said to own roughly half or more of S3 Graphics and control its management.

Acer Labs, SiS and ATI Technologies all have Pentium 4 chipset licences and are expected to release products soon.

Intel declined to comment on the new lawsuit.

Michael Kanellos contributed to this report

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