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Intel seeks to ban import of Via chipsets

The giant chipmaker files yet another complaint against Via Technologies, this time asking a government agency to bar the Taiwanese company from importing products into the United States.

Intel has filed yet another complaint against chipmaker Via Technologies, this time asking a government agency to bar the Taiwanese company from importing products into the United States.

The giant chipmaker has filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission to bar Via from importing, among other products, its Apollo Pro chipsets, which work with Intel's Celeron and Pentium III processors, said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman.

Via is also slated to release its "Joshua" processor for low-end PCs in the near future. It is uncertain, but likely, that the request for a ban could be expanded to include these products as well.

Intel has filed a number of lawsuits against Via that center around a licensing deal that turned ugly. Via could not be reached for comment, but in the past the company has said they strongly dispute the allegations.

In late 1998, Intel signed a deal to license its "P6" bus to Via. The bus is the main conduit for data between the microprocessor and the rest of the computer. Via planned to make chipsets incorporating the bus that would compete with Intel chipsets.

The deal, a rare one for Intel, was seen by some analysts as a way for the company to deflect the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, then investigating the company, as well as an attempt to wean one of AMD's leading silicon partners away from dependence on the competition. Licensing pacts with other chipset makers soon followed.

By April, the deal was already in tatters. Via was promoting a chipset with a 133-MHz system bus, faster than Intel's 100-MHz system bus. The chipset was also compatible with 133-MHz SDRAM. Intel claimed that Via had gone beyond the terms of the licensing agreement on a number of occasions for unspecified reasons.

After negotiations failed, Intel filed a lawsuit in federal court. This was followed by lawsuits in England and Singapore. Along with Via, Intel is also suing PC makers FIC and Everex, which work extensively with Via. These companies also share common investors.

During this time, Via's chipset racked up important sales victories with companies such as IBM, HP and Compaq.

Although the outcome of any of these suits is uncertain, no love is lost between the two companies. While Intel has been filing suits, Via has been striking deals with S3 and others in an effort to insulate itself from liability. By contrast, no apparent problems have erupted on the other chipset deals.

"Intel sued Cyrix five times, and they never won. Intel--they just love lawsuits," said Via CEO Wen-Chi Chen in November.

"Because of the termination of the licensing agreement, none of their products are licensed for the P6 bus," said Mulloy.

Under ITC procedure, the group will have 30 days to consider the complaint, which was filed on Jan. 7. If the complaint is accepted, the organization will assign a judge to examine the issues in the request, said Mulloy.