nVidia and Samsung have announced that they will drop all patent claims against each other. The two had been fighting each other in US International Trade Commission (UITC) and US Federal Courts over patents on mobile devices. According to nVidia's blog "The settlement includes the licensing of a small number of patents by each company to the other, but no broad cross-licensing of patents or other compensation. Further details of the agreement are not being disclosed."
Specifically, the patents dealt with graphics processors, programmable shading, unified shaders, parallel processing, and other aspects of the GPU. nVidia’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer David Shannon wrote in a blog post in 2014 that nVidia had been previously negotiating with Samsung to grant them a license to their portfolio, but Samsung said that the fault was with the suppliers of the chips and not them directly. The affected GPU’s included Qualcomm’s Adreno, ARM’s Mali, and Imagination’s PowerVR, which account for a majority of GPU’s on phones and tablets.
“Without licensing NVIDIA’s patented GPU technology, Samsung and Qualcomm have chosen to deploy our IP without proper compensation to us. This is inconsistent with our strategy to earn an appropriate return on our investment.” Shannon wrote in 2014.
Samsung responded with a countersuit alleging violation of their patents by nVidia. This culminated in UITC ruling in favor of Samsung with regards to nVidia infringing their patents.
A few of the patents in question are:
- US Patent 6690372 - "System, method and article of manufacture for shadow mapping "
- US Patent 7209140 - "System, method and article of manufacture for a programmable vertex processing model with instruction set"
- US Patent 6198488 - "Transform, lighting and rasterization system embodied on a single semiconductor platform"
- US Patent 6992667 - "Single semiconductor graphics platform system and method with skinning, swizzling and masking capabilities"
- US Patent 7038685 - "Programmable graphics processor for multithreaded execution of programs "
It’s good that this was settled. nVidia does make ARM chips for mobile devices, but they’ve had difficulty breaking into the same market position Qualcomm is in, or even Samsung with its own Exynos line. As the USITC has the power to ban imports of products found to infringe patents, it could have had a ripple effect on the entire industry depending on how the judges ruled. This could have held up a number of products, and the settlement is just in time for 14nm and 16nm chips to hit the market.