No Intel patents for P4 bus, Via says

Facing a possible legal battle with Intel Corp. over the release of its latest chip set, Via Technologies Inc. said it has been unable to find evidence that Intel holds a patent for the 400MHz front-side bus used with the Pentium 4 processor.

The announcement comes as Via Wednesday began shipping its Apollo P4X266 chip set for the Pentium 4, which supports DDR (Double Data Rate) memory, to motherboard makers in Taiwan. Intel officials have repeatedly hinted at plans to take legal action against Via over the P4X266 as Via does not hold a license for the 400MHz front-side bus that is used with the Pentium 4.

“We haven’t broken any patents,” said Richard Brown, director of marketing at the Taipei-based PC chip set and processor vendor. “As far as we know we haven’t infringed any of Intel’s patents.”

An Intel spokeswoman here declined to comment on the possibility of legal action over the P4X266 chip set and could not immediately confirm the patent status of the 400MHz bus.

In addition to the missing patent, Via has previously pointed to a cross-licensing agreement between S3 Graphics Inc., which is affiliated with Via, and Intel. Via claims the cross-licensing agreement covers the P4X266, as well. Brown declined to comment on whether the P4X266 contains intellectual property from S3, but Via has plans to release in November another chip set, the P4M266, which integrates a graphics core from S3 with the P4X266.

Via’s P4X266 is the only DDR chip set for the Pentium 4 that is currently shipping. At present Intel only offers a Pentium 4 chip set, the i850, which supports RDRAM (Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory) and is more expensive than DDR memory. Intel has no plans to offer its own Pentium 4 chip set that supports DDR, the i845, until early next year.

With the four largest motherboard makers holding off on using the P4X266 because of the unresolved licensing issue with Intel, Via is counting on second-tier motherboard vendors to get the chip set into the market, Brown said, declining to name specific customers.

In addition, Via is offering to protect its customers from costs or damages related to legal action by Intel over the chip set, he said. “We will indemnify them against any costs should Intel decide to go along this route,” he said.

Via Technologies, in Taipei, can be reached at Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif., can be reached at