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VIA ‘scare tactics’ claim ups ante in war of words with Intel

Put up, shut up or go to court, we tell both parties

VIA today accused Intel of employing "scare tactics" to dissuade mobo makers and PC vendors from choosing its P4X266 Pentium 4 DDR SDRAM chipset.

Behind the two companies' shenanigans is the old chipset chestnut: does VIA have the right to make and sell a Pentium 4 compatible chipset or not? VIA's accusation was part of a restatement of its belief that it does have the necessary licence, made to counter Intel's "repeated claims both in the media and in discussions with customers" that the Taiwanese company is not authorised to do so.

To our way of thinking, the only way both companies can get beyond this argument is to seek independent arbitration, most likely through the US courts.

VIA's claim is based on its acquisition of S3 Graphics, the chip design operation of the company that used to be called S3 but now goes by the handle SonicBlue. S3 won the right to build P4 compatible products by trading some rather neat intellectual property it acquired out of the collapsed remains of Exponential Technology.

VIA's line is that S3 has the right to make P4 chipsets, and since it owns S3, it does too.

Intel is having none of it since it has never expressly granted VIA a P4 licence. On that basis it claims the P4X266 and the upcoming integrated P4M266 chipsets are unauthorised and therefore in violation of its intellectual property.

In the past Intel has stridently threatened to sue anyone who commits such a violation, but its bark has so far proved very much worse than its bite. That suggests it expects VIA to capitulate - very unlikely now the company has begun selling the offending silicon - or it's not quite as sure of its case as it likes to make out.

That uncertainty applied to VIA too. Why else would it seek to win Intel over through negotiations designed to win the chip giant's blessing? If VIA really is convinced of its ownership of a P4 licence, why bother seeking Intel's permission at all?

To avoid legal action, that's why, and given the costs involved, you can't blame it. The only trouble is, that's pretty much the only way the argument is going to be settled without one party losing face and royalty payments. Intel wants the money, VIA doesn't want to pay up because it would eliminate the price advantage the P4X266 has over Intel's i845.

To both parties we say, stop whining about each other's actions and settle the damn thing for once and for all. Ideally, VIA should be allowed to test its products against rival offerings through the power of the market, but if a solution can only be reached through recourse to law, so be it. ®

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