Apple found guilty of S3 patent infringement

Apple has been found guilty of infringement in a patent spat with graphics outfit S3, having apparently co-opted the company's compression technology for use in mobile devices.

At the heart of S3 Graphics' disagreement with Apple is a technology known as S3 Texture Compression, or S3TC. Designed to improve the capabilities of graphics hardware that is lacking in memory, such as low-end equipment and mobile devices, it reduces the amount of graphics memory required to store high-resolution textures.

"S3 Texture Compression has been implemented in over a billion computers, game consoles and mobile devices worldwide," explained S3's chief executive Dr. Ken Weng in a statement to press. "S3 Texture Compression is invaluable for advanced 3-D video graphics," he further claimed.

That's an argument with which the International Trade Commission appears to be in agreement. Judge E. James Gildea has found Apple guilty of infringement of two of S3's patents, and his decision will stand unless modified by a majority vote of ITC Commissioners by the 1st of November.

The decision follows an eight-day trial held in March, itself the result of a complaint filed by S3 back in May 2010. Should Judge Gildea's decision stand, Apple will be on the hook for damages and royalties going back to the start of the infringement.

It's hard to see Apple succeeding with an appeal: its products clearly feature texture compression technologies as described in the patents, and its peers - Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, to name but three - are already licensees of S3's texture compression technologies.

At the time of writing, Apple had not responded to our request for comment.