Intel threatens new round of chipset lawsuits

Via Technologies, the No. 2 chipset maker, appears to be headed for another legal confrontation with Intel
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

A senior Intel executive has escalated the war of words between Intel and Via Technologies, the world's No. 2 chipset maker, threatening legal action against any companies who sell unauthorised chipsets for Intel's Pentium 4.

Chen Chun-shen, Intel's Asia-Pacific regional president, told the Taiwan Economic News on Thursday that the company would not hesitate to file lawsuits against companies, such as Via, which make chipsets for Pentium 4 without a licence from Intel.

Via has said it will go ahead with plans to market its P4X266 chipset for Pentium 4, demonstrated earlier this year, despite the fact that Intel has declined to sell Via a licence. A chipset allows the processor to communicate with memory and other PC components.

Currently only three companies are licensed to make Pentium 4 chipsets: Acer Laboratories, ADI and Silicon Integrated Systems.

Intel is pushing Pentium 4 into the computing mainstream through a series of steep price cuts, despite the fact that the processor is significantly more expensive to manufacture than its predecessor, Pentium III. The company is set to release the 845 chipset at the end of August, which will allow the chip to use a much cheaper type of memory, and will simultaneously cut the processor price to take it even or below the price of Pentium III.

Intel's current 850 chipset for Pentium 4 requires the use of proprietary Rambus memory.

Intel and Via are bitter competitors in the market for PC chipsets. Via became the first company to be granted a licence to make chipsets for Pentium II, Celeron and Pentium III processors in late 1998.

The deal soon broke down, however. In the spring of 1999, Via released a chipset with a 133MHz system bus, a performance-enhancing feature that bested Intel's 100MHz bus.

Intel sued Via in the United States, England and Singapore, also naming First International Computer and Everex, two companies owned by the same conglomerate, alleging that Via had violated its intellectual property. Intel even sought to have Via's products banned in the United States. The two companies settled most of the issues of that lawsuit last July.

An Intel UK spokesman confirmed that Intel would take any necessary steps to protect its intellectual property, but said the company is always willing to discuss licensing issues.

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos and Ian Fried contributed to this report.

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