How Did the NVIDIA-Samsung Legal Battle Start?

The NVIDIA-Samsung legal battle

In the preceding part of this series, we discussed how NVIDIA (NVDA) won a patent lawsuit filed by Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) in retaliation to the former’s lawsuit against the latter. It’s been a vicious circle of lawsuits, so let’s try to untangle the web surrounding these and understand the incentives behind entering into such a legal battle in the first place.

How Did the NVIDIA-Samsung Legal Battle Start?

Where it all started

In September 2014, NVIDIA filed its first patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung and Qualcomm (QCOM) in the US ITC (International Trade Commission) in Washington.

NVIDIA claimed that the two companies used its core GPU (graphic processing unit) technologies, such as programmable GPUs, multithreaded processing of graphical data, and graphics pipelines—shaders and rasterizers. The company stated that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs (system-on-chips) uses Adreno GPUs, and Samsung’s in-house Exynos SoCs uses ARM Mali GPUs and Imagination PowerVR GPUs. All three GPUs are made from NVIDIA’s technology, but the GPUs in question power Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets.

Before knocking the court’s door, NVIDIA approached South Korea’s (EWY) Samsung in August 2012 asking for a licensing agreement for the patents in question. Samsung shifted the onus to its suppliers: Qualcomm, ARM, and Imagination. Due to no response from Samsung and Qualcomm, it resorted to a legal battle.

Samsung reacts to NVIDIA’s case

Countering NVIDIA’s claim, Samsung filed a case in a Virginia court, claiming that NVIDIA infringed three of its patent. This retaliation backfired as the court ruled in favor of NVIDIA. However, Samsung might appeal against the court ruling.

ITC’s ruling on NVIDIA’s patent lawsuit

In April 2015, NVIDIA’s case looked strong because an ITC judge agreed with the company’s interpretation of the patent claims. However, the tables turned in October 2015, when a judge ruled that Samsung was not guilty of patent infringement. It became worse when an ITC judge found NVIDIA guilty of infringing on two of the three patents and found Samsung guilty of infringing on the third patent, which was found to be invalid.

The full ITC, composed of six commissioners, is currently reviewing the ruling and will reveal its decision in February 2016. If the full ITC rules in NVIDIA’s favor, the company would gain the licensing fee for every Samsung Galaxy device sold containing NVIDIA’s GPU technology.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at another patent lawsuit between Marvell Technology (MRVL) and Carnegie Mellon University.