Nvidia loses Rambus patent rumble

After two years of legal tangles, Rambus has finally won the patent infringement lawsuit that it originally brought against Nvidia in 2008.

The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) issued a limited exclusion order to Nvidia and other named respondents yesterday, as well as cease and desist orders, concerning infringement of three patents. According to Rambus, the offending products include a number of Nvidia's offerings, including both GPUs and chipsets, which Rambus says use patent-infringing memory controllers.

Rambus kicked off legal proceedings with allegations that Nvidia had violated nine patents, but four of these possible infringements were thrown out during the investigations last year. In January 2010, a further two patents were also excluded from the list.

The result doesn't just affect Nvidia, but also has implications for many manufacturers of Nvidia-based kit. According to Rambus, this exhaustive list includes big players such as Hewlett-Packard, Asus, Gigabyte and MSI, as well as many other hardware makers.

Any products featuring kit deemed to infringe Rambus' patents are now barred from importation into the US, and any of the kit that was previously imported into the country is now barred from being sold.

The news doesn't appear to have fazed Nvidia, though. "There will be no impact on our customers, or our business, as a result of this ruling," said the company in a statement. The company also pointed out that the judge had only ruled in Rambus' favour in three of the original nine patents.

Nvidia reckons it can get round the issue via European law. "We intend to take advantage of the mandatory European Commission License that is available," said the company.

"This will allow us and our partners to continue our business under the terms of that license and prevent the enforcement of any exclusion order." The graphics company also says it plans to launch an appeal against the ruling to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Rambus is readying the champagne. "We are extremely pleased with the ITC's decision to issue a Limited Exclusion Order," said Rambus senior vice president Thomas Lavelle. "The value of our patented inventions has been recognised by our current licensees, and we will continue our efforts to license others."

Rambus claims the lawsuit was originally brought against Nvidia after numerous attempts to contact the graphics card maker and work out an amicable license agreement. At the time, Lavelle claimed that "for more than six years, we have diligently attempted to negotiate a licensing agreement with Nvidia, but our good faith efforts have been to no avail."