Sometimes it seems that justice can be as fickle as the wind, especially when it comes to patent cases. In the multiple infringement cases flung between NVIDIA and Samsung, the scales have finally tipped in favor of the famed graphics chip maker. At least for now. A federal jury court in Virginia declared that NVIDIA did not infringe on Samsung’s patents related to memory used in its graphics cards. Somewhat amusingly, the case started with four patents hurled against NVIDIA but eventually ended up with only one.
That’s actually not extraordinary, as part of the pre-trial circus involves whittling down as the count as much as possible, to also lessen the potential damages to be pain in case of a loss. Of the four patents that Samsung said NVIDIA infringed on, one was dropped by Samsung itself and two were dropped by the judge after declaring a mistrial.
The patent case itself was somewhat of a retaliation against Samsung. NVIDIA was the first to fire in September 2014 when it sued not only Samsung but also Qualcomm for infringing on its graphics technology patents that the two are using inside their mobile systems-on-chip or SoCs. Unsurprisingly, Samsung filed a countersuit, saying that it was, in fact, NVIDIA that was infringing on Samsung’s patents in the memory chips that NVIDIA uses for its graphics cards.
Since then, the cases have proceeded in multiple streams and multiple outcomes. At first it seemed that NVIDIA gained the upper hand in April last year when an ITC judge favored the chip maker’s interpretation of the patent claims. However, the tables were turned on NVIDIA quickly and by October, the ITC cleared Samsung of any wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the ITC ruled in December that it was, in fact, infringed on Samsung’s patents.
While NVIDIA is still appealing both decisions, it has, at least, won in a federal jury trial. In that case, NVIDIA was cleared of infringing on memory chips produced by Samsung and other silicon makers which are in turn used inside graphics cards. It is an established computer architecture that could have repercussions in the industry depending on how the trial went.
These cases form a backdrop for Samsung’s rumored interest in getting into the graphics chip biz, at least as far as mobile chips are concerned. It is a market with still no clear winner, even with NVIDIA’s well-regraded graphics-oriented Tegra processors. Samsung’s new HBM2 DRAM also increases the company’s bargaining powers in future memory chip negotiations. How these lawsuits will affect NVIDIA and Samsung’s business relationship, however, remains to be seen.