Intel scores a reprieve in $2.18B VLSI patent case after court orders retrial

The never-ending IP story goes on

Updated Intel has delayed paying $2.18 billion in damages for its alleged misuse of patents on Monday after a US appeals court threw out the case against the chip giant brought by VLSI.

The decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Western District of Texas Federal Circuit reversed a 2021 jury's conclusion that Intel had infringed on VLSI's patents marking the latest twist in the x86 giant's battle with the litigious semiconductor IP holder.

Intel isn't out of the woods yet. According to the latest filing, the court found Intel had in fact infringed one of the patents but reversed the decision in a second. The patent fight is headed back to the Lone Star State for a fresh trial to determine how much Intel owes VLSI for the use of its technologies.

As we previously reported. The patents in this case concern two key technologies that VLSI contents Intel employed in its third-gen Ivy Bridge and sixth-gen Skylake processor series. These patents include keeping track of the minimum amount of voltage required to drive memory (373) and methods for controlling clock speeds (759).

VLSI had sought $1.5 billion and $675 million for their use, respectively, and in 2021 a Waco Texas jury found that Intel had infringed upon the company's patents. The court reversed the ruling for the latter and vacated damages for VLSI's memory patent (373) pending a new trial.

It's worth noting that VLSI isn't actually responsible for the technologies described in these patents. The first of these concerning memory voltage originally belonged to SigmaTel, before it was bought by Freescale, and later NXP. The second covers clock speeds, and also belonged to Freescale and then NXP before both ended up in the hands of VLSI.

While famous for designing and making ASICs and its role in forming Arm in the early 1990s in collaboration with Apple and Acorn, VLSI is a very different company today. It's owned by SoftBank's Fortress Investment Group, and appears to exist solely to sue chipmakers that it believes have violated its intellectual property — in other words, it's a patent troll.

This isn't the first time Intel has found itself defending its technologies against VLSI in patent suits. Last year, Intel and VLSI agreed to end a $4 billion patent dispute dating back to 2018.

The case alleged Intel had infringed on five VLSI-owned patents governing things like secure communications, power optimization and delivery, and flip-chip interconnects. After five years of litigation VLSI abandoned the case with prejudice, which as we understand it means it can't refile the case.

While Intel avoided having to pay out in that case, and has been granted a reprieve pending a new trial in the $2.18 billion patent dispute, late last fall, a separate jury found Intel had infringed on VLSI patents and ordered the company to pay $948.8 million. That case revolved around technology found in Intel's Cascade Lake and Skylake processors that violated a VLSI data processing patent. ®

Updated to add

"Intel is pleased the appeals court vacated the judgment, ruling Intel does not infringe one of VLSI’s low-quality patents and sending the case back to the Texas trial court for further proceedings on the other patent," a spokesperson for the chip giant told The Register.

"The Patent Office has already found both patents invalid. Intel looks forward to making its case to a jury that the VLSI patent sent back to the trial court is also of little value."

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