Microtune, Broadcom claim court wins

Chipmaker Microtune says it won double the damages it sought in a patent infringement case against its rival. Meanwhile, Broadcom applauds another ruling.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
2 min read
Chipmaker Microtune announced that it won double the damages it sought in a patent infringement case against rival Broadcom.

A jury found that a Broadcom tuner chip infringed on a patent owned by Plano, Texas-based Microtune. The judge in the case this week awarded the company $3 million in damages as well as attorney's fees that, according to Microtune, could bring the award to between $7 million and $10 million. The judge also made permanent an injunction preventing Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom from shipping one of its tuner chips, the BCM 3415, in the United States.

"We're just glad to resolve the case, and the important thing here is that we got a permananent injunction related to Broadcom's products," said James A. Fontaine, CEO of Microtune. "Our view was that they had a serious advantage in the marketplace based on copying our technology and bringing it to bear with their own strengths."

However, a Broadcom spokesman said the company was pleased by another ruling by the judge on Thursday that will allow Broadcom to keep shipping a new version of its tuner chip, the BCM 3416, that does not, according to Broadcom, use Microchip's technology. Chip tuners are used to deliver broadband voice, data and video communications to electronic devices such as personal computers, cable modems and set-top boxes.

"This allows us to move forward with our next-generation silicon tuner unencumbered," Broadcom spokesman Bill Blanning said. That chip, the BCM 3416, started shipping in June, he said. The company had halted U.S. shipments of the earlier chip in April as a result of a preliminary injunction. Broadcom is still seeking a ruling by the judge that its new chip does not infringe the Microtune patent.

Blanning said Broadcom will appeal the damages award.

Microtune filed its suit against Broadcom in January 2001 for patent infringement related to the development of a "highly integrated silicon tuner on a single microcircuit." Microtune claimed in its case that it began developing the chip technology in 1996 and formally brought the idea to market with the release of its MicroTuner product in January 1999.

Earlier this year, the court upheld Microtune's patent and ordered Broadcom to halt sales of its own silicon tuner and related reference design boards also containing the technology. In issuing its latest decision, the court cited the existence of a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence that indicated Broadcom deliberately copied Microtune's technology in its chipsets.

Resolution of the patent dispute does not mark the end of legal wrangling between the two competitors. Earlier this year, Broadcom filed a separate suit against Microtune, alleging that Microtune's power amplifiers, tuners and Bluetooth products violate Broadcom patents. That suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, involves Microtune's electrostatic discharge protection circuits and various wireless technologies.

The two companies are also tangled in a third patent lawsuit Broadcom brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas that centers on Microtune's solid-state RF tuner products.