ITC Judge Finds Apple Guilty of Infringing S3 Graphics' Patents

ITC Judge: Mac OS Infringes S3's Patents, Apple iOS Does Not

by Anton Shilov
07/28/2011 | 07:02 PM

An ITC judge ruled in a preliminary decision that Apple's iOS operating system and devices on its base do not infringe S3 Graphics related to texture compression technologies, whereas the company's Macintosh computers that use Mac OS X and utilize non-Nvidia graphics solution do. Potentially, if the decision is supported by other judges and Apple cannot negotiate a deal with HTC (owner of S3), Macs can be banned from the U.S.


Mac OS X operating system for Apple Macintosh computers infringes two S3 patents related to graphics chips, U.S. International Trade Commission judge James Gildea said. But at the same time Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices that run iOS do not illegally use S3's intellectual property. If Gildea’s decision is upheld in a review by the full six-member commission, the ITC can ban U.S. imports of some Macs, reports Bloomberg news-agency.

In particular, older Macintosh systems that were based on Intel Core 2 and other chips also used Nvidia Corp.'s GeForce discrete or integrated graphics processing units, did not infringe any of S3's patents. The problem for Apple is that modern Macintosh computers feature either discrete graphics from Advanced Micro Devices' ATI division or integrated graphics cores from Intel.

As a result, Apple will either need to license the texture compression technologies from HTC, one of its rivals on the market of smartphones and tablets as well as the new owner of S3 Graphics, or stop selling its latest Macs. Given the fact that HTC has just lost a smartphone-related patent dispute with Apple in court, the two companies are about to start negotiations anyway.

"HTC's best chance to force Apple into at least a partial cross-license would probably be S3 Graphics' assertions against Apple. HTC's potential leverage against Apple depends very much on whether S3 Graphics would be in a position to obtain an import ban against product lines representing a significant part of Apple's revenue base," said independent patent analyst Florian Mueller, reports Computerworld.

But the problem for HTC and S3 Graphics is that On the same day when judge Gildea ruled that Macs infringe two S3 patents, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) found that those same claims were not patentable. Potentially, it means that no decision against Apple can be made by the ITC in S3-related case and HTC will have to negotiate with Apple without such a major ace up in its sleeve as S3's graphics patents.