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Intel sues over MMX trademark

Though Intel has sued competitors AMD and Cyrix, alleging infringement of Intel's "MMX" trademark, they find the claim empty.

Intel (INTC) announced late last Friday that it has filed suit against Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Cyrix (CYRX) in U.S. District Court in Delaware for infringement of Intel's "MMX" trademark but both companies say the claim is groundless. MMX is Intel's media-enhancement chip technology.

The suit alleges that AMD and Cyrix will "improperly leverage Intel's investment in the MMX trademark, which could confuse consumers as they make buying decisions," Intel said. The suit seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief along with unspecified damages and fees.

"We're not asking them to pay anything. We just want them to attribute the technology to Intel," said an Intel spokesperson. In short, Intel is asking AMD and Cyrix to state in their advertising that it is Intel's MMX technology, not simply MMX technology.

However, both Cyrix and AMD--as well as some analysts--have maintained in the past that MMX is not a name that can be trademarked.

Thomas McCoy, general counsel for AMD, said that Intel's claim of trademark rights to MMX is not valid since MMX is a "generic acronym." "We believe the term MMX belongs to the public domain, and we expect to prevail when the matter goes to trial," said McCoy.

The suit "poses no risk to AMD that it will have to delay shipment of AMD-K6 processors or subsequently recall these products," McCoy added.

On April 2 AMD plans to announce its new, MMX-capable K6 processor which will compete with both Intel's Pentium Pro chip and its forthcoming MMX-capable Pentium II processor.

Interestingly, AMD, unlike Cyrix, has the rights to use Intel's MMX technology in order to develop an MMX-compatible chip, which the company has done with its K6 processor. Cyrix, for its part, has elected to do a "clean-room" version of MMX for its upcoming MMX-compatible M2 chip and is not licensing the technology from Intel.

Cyrix also believes it has a legitimate right to use the MMX name as it pleases without citing it as an Intel trademark.

"MMX has been used broadly in the industry as a general term describing multimedia extensions. This is not an Intel trademark," said Steve Tobak, a marketing vice president at Cyrix, in an earlier interview with CNET.

Intel, of course, sees things differently. "If we don't protect the trademark now, we will lose the right to the trademark," said an Intel spokesperson.

Intel has filed for registration of the trademark.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.