Intel is suing Digital to get back product information it shared under non-disclosure agreements - the second round in the legal battle between the two companies.
Intel has asked Digital to return confidential product-related information - from engineering documents to chip prototypes - that Intel gave under 1991 and 1996 non-disclosure agreements, said Howard High, an Intel spokesperson. Digital has licensed Intel microprocessors, High said, and Intel gave Digital the product information in order to allow it to do advanced engineering work. At the time of writing, however, Digital had not returned the information, even though a contract spells out that either party can request an end to the non-disclosure agreements at any time, he said.
The suit, filed in the US District Court in California, alleges that Digital is violating Intel's intellectual property rights by not returning the product information; Intel is seeking unspecified damages. Intel's High acknowledges, however, that the suit is related to Digital's recent patent infringement lawsuit against Intel [see ARN May 28, p18].
"When you've got a situation where another company is accusing you of theft and making accusations on your integrity, the last thing that you want to do is take your confidential advanced intellectual property information and supply that into that company," High said.
Digital's general counsel, Thomas Siekman, called Intel's suit unjustified but not a surprise. The suit, he said in a written statement, is a "thinly veiled attempt to cause concern among Digital's customers" and an attempt to "threaten" and "silence" Digital in the wake of its own patent infringement challenge against Intel.
Digital's lawsuit alleges that Intel infringed on Digital's patents for Alpha microprocessor technology and used the technology in its Pentium, Pentium Pro, and Pentium II chip lines. Intel, whose chip marketshare dwarfs that of Digital's Alpha, has denied those allegations and vowed to vigorously defend against the suit.
Digital's Siekman claims the company has long-term product contracts with Intel through 1999, and that it expects to retain "timely" access to Intel's technology just the same way other Intel customers do. Intel's High, however, said Digital has a long-term contract for some products, but its microprocessor contract runs only through the third quarter of this year and the companies have yet to negotiate an extension, he said.
Digital could be hurt by not having access to Intel's chip road map, since it needs to know Intel's plans to make its own plans, said Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research.
"They kind of lose what people sometimes refer to as 'most favoured customer' status," Massimini said.
Even so, Digital has said that it plans to build systems in the future using Advanced Micro Devices' K6 chip, a competitor to Intel's Pentium II, Massimini said.