AMD has won a round in its legal battle against makers of TVs at the United States International Trade Commission (US ITC). The Commission found that Vizio and Sigma Designs have infringed one of AMD’s patents covering fundamental aspects of modern GPUs. The ITC ordered to cease imports of some of Vizio TVs to the U.S.

Back in early 2017, AMD filed a lawsuit with the US ITC against LG, MediaTek, Sigma Designs, and Vizio. The plaintiff accused the defendants of infringing three patents covering fundamental aspects of contemporary graphics processing, such unified shaders (‘133), parallel pipeline graphics system (‘506), as well as a graphics processing architecture employing unified shaders (‘454). Furthermore, the complaint referenced an in-progress patent application covering GPU architectures with unified shaders (‘967) and accused two of the said companies of infringing it as well. Meanwhile all the defendants license (or licensed) their GPU technologies from ARM and Imagination Technologies (though, as we reported back in early 2017, it looks like AMD only accuses SoCs based on ARM’s architecture of infringing its patents).

Eventually, LG settled with AMD out of court. Meanwhile, MediaTek, Sigma Designs, and Vizio are still parts of the US ITC investigation. This week the Commission found that certain Vizio-branded TVs based on Sigma's SoCs infringe claims 1-5 and 8 of AMD's ’506 patent that covers a parallel pipeline graphics system.

The ITC notice does not disclose which products infringe AMD's patent, nor does it list the TVs now barred from the U.S. Keeping in mind that Vizio used certain SoCs from Sigma Designs, which is about to be liquidated, it is unlikely that TVs in question are current, new models. Unfortunately, due to lack of details, it is unclear how important the win is for AMD and what are possible implications for the parties involved. Meanwhile, after issuing a cease and desist order, ITC terminated the investigation, but did not order defendants to pay any remedies.

The List of AMD's Patents Allegedly Infringed by Defendants
Patent Name Abstract Description Asserted Claims Filing Date Infringing
IC Products*
7,633,506 Parallel pipeline graphics system The parallel pipeline graphics system includes a back-end configured to receive primitives and combinations of primitives (i.e., geometry) and process the geometry to produce values to place in a frame buffer for rendering on screen. 1-9 November 26, 2003 MediaTek Helio P10

7,796,133 Unified shader A unified shader unit used in texture processing in graphics processing device. Unlike the conventional method of using one shader for texture coordinate shading and another for color shading, the present shader performs both operations. 1-13 and 40 December 8, 2003
8,760,454 Graphics processing architecture employing a unified shader A GPU that uses unified shaders 2 - 11 May 17, 2011 MediaTek Helio P10
Patent Application 14/614,967 1-8 June 27, 2016
*The list of infringing products is not limited to two ICs.

Related Reading:

Sources: ITC, Seeking Alpha, Bloomberg

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  • Reflex - Saturday, August 25, 2018 - link

    Neither ARM nor Imagination Technologies make actual products. It is not illegal to license a design that incorporates other IP, what is illegal is building a product based on that design and selling it without licensing the IP included in it. This applies to the ARM and IT designs themselves as well, anyone could make their own derivative and license it, but the licensee would need to pay not only them but also ARM and IT.

    This model is legal but it is in contrast to how other vendors do it. For instance, Microsoft and Intel both offer patent immunity, if anyone is sued for selling a product based on their designs or technology, Microsft or Intel will step in and litigate the case for the OEM, including paying any penalties and licensing fees. Of course thier products cost more, but this is part of what you are buying.
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, August 27, 2018 - link


    Though, it does leave ARM's customers in the position of figuring out what IP they need to license to cover ARM's designs.
  • Reflex - Monday, August 27, 2018 - link

    Yes, but again that's part of why ARM designs are cheap.
  • iwod - Saturday, August 25, 2018 - link

    I am a little surprised Mediatek does not have a patent agreement with AMD by now. That seems strange. Or has Mediatek left the vendor to pact with AMD themselves?
  • HStewart - Sunday, August 26, 2018 - link

    I find these 3 patents so vague in definition that it would be hard justify it in court - I would not doubt there will be counter suits like the Samsung/NVidia

    The problems is not with Patent system directly - but the fact the lower uses especially when a company buys another company for patent and then sues. I am not sure if this every happen - but if Company A lets Company B uses a patent on device and then Company C by Company A and then sues Company B - that surely should be illegal.

    To me it only seems that dirty lawyers win.

    One thing I do believe in if Company A credit a chip and specifically that a specific software on it and then Company B copy Company A so the same software can run it - then Company B is in violation.
  • Reflex - Sunday, August 26, 2018 - link

    These patents are licensed by others in the industry. Including nVidia and Intel. AMD/Ati were original players in the graphics space (as was nVidia and Imagination Technologies) and as such, they own patents on many fundamental concepts to modern GPU design. The same is true for the other early players, and that is how it works in most industries.
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, August 27, 2018 - link

    @HStewart: "I find these 3 patents so vague in definition that it would be hard justify it in court"

    Did you read the whole patent or just the abstract? While I do agree in general that most patents are a little too broadly applicable for my liking, this one is far from the worst offender I've seen.

    @HStewart: "I am not sure if this every happen - but if Company A lets Company B uses a patent on device and then Company C by Company A and then sues Company B - that surely should be illegal."

    If I understand your statement correctly, then this is illegal in most circumstances. If Company C is buying Company A (and not just certain assets of Company A), then they are also buying Company A's current obligations at the time of sale. In the case of Company A declaring bankruptcy, Company C may only be buying a subset of assets, which complicates things a bit. In any case, I don't believe the license Company B acquired from Company A would be considered invalid until it expired.
  • Reflex - Monday, August 27, 2018 - link

    There is also the trap where people look at prior patents and decide they are too broad, vague or obvious. In the world of IP that is irrelevant, what matters is whether or not it was broad, vague or obvious *at the time*. That is important as by definition anything that becomes the popular way to do something will eventually seem obvious, broad or vague.

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