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Intel countersues Intergraph

The chipmaker accuses the workstation maker of infringing patents and asks for summary judgment on Intergraph's patent claims.

In a two-punch counterattack on Intergraph, Intel has accused the workstation maker of infringing seven of the chip giant's patents and argued that an existing cross-licensing deal gives it "absolute immunity" against Intergraph's initial patent claims.

As part of a portfolio that numbers more than 2,500, Intel's patents cover a broad range of technologies for high-end computing, including graphics, disk access, and memory. In addition to the patent infringement claims, the countersuit by Intel alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, intentional interference with business relations, and breach of contract.

In a separate court filing, the chipmaker requested summary judgment on Intergraph's patent infringement charges, arguing that a 22-year-old cross-licensing deal with National Semiconductor gives Intel irrevocable rights to use the technology.

Both documents were filed yesterday in federal court in Alabama in response to a suit Intergraph filed in November, which alleged that Intel infringed three patents related to microchip memory functions. Intergraph later amended its complaint to include antitrust claims, and the Federal Trade Commission has since filed a separate action against the chipmaker that echoes some of these allegations. (See related coverage)

Only a small portion of the answer to Intergraph's complaint addresses those charges.

The motion for summary judgment is based on a cross-license agreement it entered in 1976 with National, a pioneer in microchips. According to Intel, the agreement gave it the right to use technology contained in any patents or patent applications "owned or controlled by" National.

According to Intel's filing, Fairchild Semiconductor, once a National subsidiary, sold the assets of its advanced processor division--including the patents being aimed at Intel--to Intergraph in 1987.

"Because [National Semiconductor] clearly had control over the patents prior to their assignment to Intergraph, the ancestor applications became cross-licensed to Intel," the brief argued. "Under the terms of the cross-license, any license once granted survives for the life of the patent right, regardless of transfer of a patent or application to a third party."

In a recent interview with CNET NEWS.COM, Intergraph chief executive Jim Meadlock disputed Intel's legal theories. Intergraph acquired technology for its Clipper chip directly from Fairchild before it merged with National. As a result, Intel's cross-license agreement with National does not apply, Meadlock said.

Motions for summary judgment are requests asking a judge to decide an issue without a trial. They are filed when a party believes there are no disputes as to the facts of a case and that a judge should make a determination based on applicable laws.

In a countersuit filing, Intel asked the court for a declaration that Intergraph's patents are invalid, arguing that the inventors failed to disclose relevant "prior art" and engaged in other inequitable conduct in the application process.

The case between Intel and Intergraph gained high-profile status after U.S. District Judge Edwin Nelson ruled that Intel's microprocessor technology is an "essential facility" akin to a power facilities or similar utilities. An essential facility is said to be necessary for others to do business.

Nelson also ruled that Intel is a monopolist in two separate markets and ordered the company to provide technical information to Intergraph pending a final outcome in the case. Intel's appeal of that ruling is pending. (See related story)

The FTC borrowed some of these same legal theories from Nelson, alleging that Intel is a monopolist and is seeking to use its dominance to unfairly compete against smaller companies that attempt to assert intellectual property rights against it.

Representatives from Intergraph were not immediately available for comment.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.