Intel executives cleared of balloon-popping charges

A lawsuit by Via Technologies against Intel may sound frivolous, but it is only part of a long-running and multifaceted legal fight

Intel executives have been found not guilty of damaging the property of rival Via Technologies -- including allegedly popping Via's balloons at a trade show -- by a Taipei court, as the legal hostilities between the two companies entered a new year.

According to a report in Taiwanese industry journal DigiTimes, the Taipei District Court on 31 December found four defendants not guilty of the charges. Via had alleged that two executives from Intel's Asian operations and two Acer employees had taken down balloons at the Computex Taipei 2001 trade show as part of an anti-competitive move against Via's products.

The dispute was just one of the more absurd examples in a long-running and multi-faceted legal fight between the two companies, centring around Via's position as the No. 2 maker of chipsets for PCs, after Intel itself. Following Via's release of a Pentium 4-compatible chipset, Intel filed a lawsuit in September of 2001 claiming that Via was infringing on Intel's Pentium 4 patents. Via claims that it has a licence for the disputed technology from Intel.

In response, Via filed suit in Taiwan alleging Intel violated fair trade laws and destroyed Via's property. A lawsuit filed in England alleged that Intel did not have the right to enforce its Pentium 4 patents because it was acting in an anticompetitive manner in the processor and chipset markets. Other litigation charged that Intel was itself violating Via's patents.

Last month, Via's English lawsuit moved a step forward. The case had been dismissed, but on 22 December the Court of Appeal overturned this decision, ruling that the case could go to court.

The court noted that the case deserved a closer look because of PC technology's potential for giving industry leaders an unfair advantage. "In the case of this technology the commercial and technical requirement for compatibility of hardware and software confers on the industry leader an even more impregnable position," the court stated. According to Via, Intel has been obliged to pay Via's costs for both the High Court and Court of Appeal hearings.

Neither Intel nor Via were immediately available for comment. Via has indicated that it will appeal the Taipei verdict.

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