Intel asks ITC to bar Via's chip sets from US

Intel has quietly stepped up its licensing war with Via Technologies by asking a US government agency to prevent the Taiwan-based company's high-performance PC chip sets from being sold in the US.

In a complaint filed January 7 with the US International Trade Commission (USITC), Intel accused Via of selling chip sets that infringe on Intel's technology patents and asked the agency to bar Via from importing the chip sets to the US.

The complaint also seeks to prevent systems that use the offending products from being imported or sold here, and names three of Via's chip set customers -- Taiwan-based motherboard manufacturer First International Computer, and that firm's US subsidiary, First International America, as well as Everex Systems, an affiliate PC vendor.

The USITC typically has 30 days from the time a complaint is filed to decide whether it merits an investigation, a USITC spokeswoman said yesterday.

The complaint doesn't name any of Via's biggest US-based customers, which include IBM and Micron Electronics. However, if the USITC investigates Intel's complaint and grants the relief it asks for, those companies also could be prevented from selling systems in the US that use Via's chip sets, an Intel spokesman confirmed.

"Potentially that could be the case," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "What we're looking for is to block the chip sets from being imported into this country, and how (the USITC) implements that would be up to them."

Via officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The products in question, the Intel filings show, include Via's high-end Apollo Pro chip set, a high-performance chip set that features a 133MHz system bus and supports 133MHz memory. Intel doesn't currently offer a chipset with a 133MHz system bus, although analysts have said it is preparing such a product for release by mid-year.

The complaint stems from a 1998 licensing agreement between Intel and Via that turned sour when Intel accused Via last year of overstepping the terms of the contract. Intel withdrew Via's license in June 1999 and filed a patent-infringement and breach-of-contract lawsuit against the company a few days later in US District Court in San Jose, California.

Via has denied any wrongdoing, and said earlier that Intel only wants to dampen support for its products.

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