Samsung goes for counterpunch in Nvidia patent suit

The Korean electronics giant countersues Nvidia, and drags Nvidia customer Velocity Micro into the fight.

Ben Fox Rubin
Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
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The Nvidia Shield Tablet, whose "world's fastest processor" is now being disputed. CNET

Samsung Electronics has fired back against Nvidia, suing the graphics chipmaker for allegedly violating six Samsung patents and making false claims about the speed of Nvidia processors.

The suit, filed November 4 in a Virginia federal court, came two months after Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia sued Samsung and chipmaker Qualcomm, saying the companies were using Nvidia's graphics patents without paying.

Samsung, based in South Korea, said Nvidia's claims that its Shield Tablet computer houses "the world's fastest mobile processor" -- Nvidia's Tegra K1 chip -- "is a false and misleading statement." Samsung said its own Exynos processor is faster on several benchmarks.

Nvidia's suits stem from the company's concerted push to license its graphics technology in more mobile devices. While Nvidia has been in talks with several companies, including Samsung, it still hasn't announced any new licensing deals. Samsung, which is the world's largest maker of smartphones, generally uses its own and Qualcomm's chips in its phones.

Nvidia is trying to block shipments into the US of some of Samsung's most popular smartphones and phablets -- including the Galaxy Note Edge and Note 4 , Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S4 -- claiming they violate Nvidia patents. A legal victory for Nvidia could provide a big financial boost for the company, since its litigation involves hundreds of millions of Samsung devices, and could help Nvidia assert its place in the mobile world.

Samsung's countersuit is a typical move in the tech world, with major firms holding thousands of patents routinely suing and countersuing each other over patent issues. Nvidia's chief administrative officer, David Shannon, said in a blog post Tuesday that the company "fully expected" a countersuit when it first sued in September.

Along with the false-advertising claim, Samsung is suing over six technical patents involving chipsets, including patents on controlling different kinds of computer memory. Samsung also named in the suit Velocity Micro, a privately held maker of custom personal computers and an Nvidia customer based in Virginia. Samsung claimed Velocity was infringing all six patents cited against Nvidia, as well as two others.

"It's unfortunate that Samsung sued Velocity," Nvidia's Shannon said. "This isn't Velocity's fight. But Samsung is just trying to keep its lawsuit in Virginia, which has a faster time to trial than most jurisdictions in the United States."

Echoing that sentiment, Velocity CEO Randy Copeland said Wednesday it was "unconscionable that Samsung is willing to completely disregard the effects and financial fallout this legal tactic will have on the undeserving employees of Velocity Micro and our local community."

Regarding the false-advertising claim, Shannon provided a handful of benchmarks showing the Nvidia Shield Tablet using the Tegra chip outperforming the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone using the Exynos chip.

Samsung is seeking damages and an end to Nvidia's alleged patent infringements.

Meanwhile, Nvidia's litigation has moved forward, with the US International Trade Commission last month agreeing to investigate Nvidia's complaint. In addition to the ITC suit, Nvidia in September filed a civil suit in Delaware against Samsung and Qualcomm over the same issues.

Update, 12:33 p.m. PT: Adds Velocity CEO statement and additional context.