Updated: Patent infringement lawsuits are thrown around so often in the technology business that we have begun tuning them out. Every day we hear of Apple suing some competitor, or those competitors going after Apple. It's become so commonplace that we realize it is just a card game to keep everyone in place. The suit filed yesterday by Via Technologies may end up giving Apple more trouble than all of those smartphone suits combined.
Virtually all of the patent infringement claims we have seen are all designed to be used as trading cards to stop potential future cases. Most of the suits involve smartphone technology, as all of the companies playing the patent game build smartphones. That is what makes the Via suit unique, and why it may spell trouble for Apple.
Via doesn't make smartphones, it doesn't make consumer electronics products at all. It is a chipmaker that competes with Intel and AMD, not Apple. So why go after Apple? One, because Apple is a big dog with lots of cash. Two, Apple makes its own chips used in the products the suit claims infringes on Via's patents. The three patents Via claims are being infringed by Apple:
US Patent No. 6253312, Method and apparatus for double operand load
US Patent Nos. 6253311 & 6754810, Instruction set for bi-directional conversion and transfer of integer and floating point data
Notice those are microprocessor related? Via claims Apple infringes on these patents with nearly its entire mobile product line: iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV. What do these have in common? Apple makes its own processor for them.
I am not an attorney but this doesn't smack of just trying to give Apple trouble. I would think that Via did its due diligence and believes it has a solid case to prove the infringement. Since Via doesn't compete directly with Apple's affected products, it's safe to assume that Via is not just trying to create a legal stalemate to head off possible future litigation from Apple. No, it sounds like Via is in it to prove Apple is in fact infringing, and then collect damages.
Apple has sold hundreds of millions of these products combined. A settlement would be massive should Via prevail.
The courts will have to decide who is in the right with this, but Via's CEO Wenchi Chen intends to go the distance as this statement given to ZDNet makes clear.
"VIA has built up an extensive IP portfolio consisting of over 5,000 patents as a result of significant investments in world class technology research and development."
"We are determined to protect our interests and the interests of our stockholders when our patents are infringed upon."
Update: Eagle-eyed colleague Ed Bott just pointed me to one not very obvious fact. Via Chairman Cher Wang is also the Chairman of HTC, heavily involved in patent litigation with Apple. This is getting interesting, and may end up being a patent playing card exchange move after all. Thanks, Ed!