A US district court has ruled that Intel did not infringe on technology patents held by workstation vendor Intergraph as that company had claimed, although the chip giant still faces antitrust charges in the case.
District Court Judge Edwin Nelson, in reconsidering an earlier plea by Intel, ruled that Intel does in fact have a license to use the technology disputed in the case, thanks to a 1976 cross-licensing agreement it signed with National Semiconductor, which has a controlling interest in the patents.
Nelson granted Intel summary judgement with regards to the patent issue, and dismissed that portion of Intergraph's case.
Intel still faces the more serious charge that it behaved anticompetitively against Intergraph and violated antitrust laws. An Intel spokesman today said Nelson's ruling may help it with that portion of its case, which is due to come to trial in June 2000.
"It takes a significant portion of the case away for us," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "It clarifies our position and it will allow us to focus on the antitrust portion of the trial."
Intergraph could not immediately be reached for comment.
In its lawsuit filed in 1997, Intergraph claims that Intel used several Intergraph patents in the design of its Pentium processor. When Intergraph tried to enforce its patent rights, Intel responded by using its dominant position in the chip industry to harm the smaller firm. It did this by cutting off access to information and samples of Intel's products that Intergraph needed to build its products, the plaintiff charges. The company claims to have been harmed irreparably by Intel's actions, and is seeking monetary damages.
Intel doesn't deny that it played hardball with Intergraph, but says its behavior doesn't amount to anticompetitive behavior. Intel has argued that it should be entitled to protect its intellectual property by refusing to do business with a company that has sued it for patent infringement.
Its treatment of Intergraph was a focus of the US Federal Trade Commission's antitrust case against Intel filed last year, along with similar dealings it had with Compaq Computer and the former Digital Equipment. That case was settled.
Until the Intergraph case comes to trial, Intel has been ordered by the court to do business with Intergraph as if it were any other customer, meaning it must provide Intergraph with the information and samples it needs to build its products. Despite claims to the contrary by Intergraph, Nelson ruled last month that Intel is acting in compliance with the injunction.
Intergraph, in Huntsville, Alabama, can be reached at +1-256-730-2000 or at http://www.intergraph.com. Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-987-8080 or at http://www.intel.com/.