AMD claims ownership of S3 Graphics patents that HTC aimed at Apple
September 30th, 2011
Daniel Eran Dilger
AMD, which became a significant component vendor to Apple when it acquired graphics chipmaker ATI, has claimed ownership of the S3 graphics patents that prompted HTC to buy S3 in order to bring patent litigation against Apple.
AMD filed a motion with the US International Trade Commission proposing that it dismiss the S3 case against Apple because “the patents-in-suit allegedly belong to ATI rather than S3G — and ATI has no intention of suing Apple over them,” notes FOSS Patents blogger Florian Mueller.
ATI outlined a detailed history of the ownership of the graphics patents in question, and “believes to have acquired them years ago regardless of whatever the assignment database of the patent office may say,” Mueller reports.
US patent owners can sell their rights without registering the ownership change to the patent office, he stated, resulting in a situation where the owner listed in the patent office’s database is no longer correct.
$300 million for patents S3 didn’t even own?
Taiwanese Android licensee HTC acquired S3, a Fremont, California image compression technology firm, for $300 million in an effort to give the smartphone maker leverage against iPhone patent infringement claims brought against it by Apple.
HTC then petitioned the ITC to block all US imports of Apple’s Macs, iPhone and iPads as a bargaining chip after the ITC ruled that HTC’s Android phones infringed two Apple patents. The ITC is also evaluating a complaint Apple brought against HTC’s Flyer tablet, pictured below.
Apple’s patent claims in its suit with HTC appear to cover core technologies in Android, rather than relating to features that HTC could disable to avoid infringement.
In addition to buying S3 for patent litigation leverage, HTC also publicly complained that it is “disappointed at Apple’s constant attempts at litigations instead of competing fairly in the market.”
HTC also announced that it was “open to having discussions” with Apple while at the same time reiterating that it “strongly denies all infringement claims by Apple in the past and present and reiterates our determination and commitment to protect our intellectual property rights.”
Google has since assigned HTC ownership of patents it recently acquired, and HTC has used these in file a series of new complaints against Apple.
Suing for injunctions vs licensing
An ITC judge ruled in July that the S3 patents HTC acquired are not being infringed by Apple’s iOS products, while noting that Macs did infringe upon the patents, allowing HTC the weaker option of demanding patent concessions from Apple in exchange for allowing it to continue to import Macs into the US.
If the S3 patents are actually owned by AMD however, HTC will lose that final bargaining tactic, as AMD has no interest in helping HTC attack its client.
HTC has separately agreed to pay Microsoft royalties for Android products that infringe its patents, something that Samsung and a variety of other Android licensees have similarly opted to do to avoid litigation.
However, Apple doesn’t appear to be interested in licensing its iPhone patents to Android users, and is instead seeking injunctions against a series of Android products in a variety of jurisdictions worldwide.
Apple’s litigation goal therefore appear similar to Oracle, which has also clearly indicated that it intends to block Android as an infringing product, rather than preferring to simply gain royalty income from its adopters.