Earlier this week a patent infringement lawsuit was filed against Intel in district court in Northern California by a company called VLSI Technology LLC. The chip giant stands accused of infringing eight VLSI patents which relate to semiconductor and microprocessor technology and all of which originated with NXP Semiconductors or Freescale Semiconductor (which was bought by NXP in 2015).
According to the court filing VLSI owns a portfolio of 160 US and foreign patents which cover “a wide variety of technologies, including integrated circuit technology”. It appears to take its name from a Silicon Valley business that was set up in the early 1980s and was ultimately acquired by Philips in 1999. A check of the USPTO assignment database shows that the company acquired the patents in a series of transactions dating back to August 2016.
What’s interesting to note from the assignment records is that Eran Zur is the authorised signatory for VLSI Technology LLC on two of the assignments from last year – you can see those here and here. Zur is of course the head of the IP group at Fortress, the giant investor that has made more of a name for itself in patent circles for its debt financings with a series of NPEs, several of which, such as those with Marathon and Inventergy, have recently resulted in Zur and his team taking control of large portfolios of assets as the NPEs have struggled to repay the debt. It is not clear what Fortress’s exact role is in relation to VLSI but if it is in ultimate control of the assets it would mark an interesting change for the investment business as it looks to acquire assets from major operating companies rather than simply lendimg to the NPE community. Of course, as many NPEs have struggled in the harsh licensing climate, the lending opportunities have presumably become scarcer for Zur et al.
As this blog reported recently Fortress has hired senior patent litigator Jon James from Perkins Coie as it looks to assert some of those assets in court. So far it has filed lawsuits against Apple, HTC and ZTE involving patents formerly owned by Inventergy.
The assignments to VLSI come at a time of a lot of IP-related activity in the semiconductor sector as consolidation in the industry has led to more patents changing hands. WiLAN for instance picked up a portfolio of more than 3300 assets from Freescale in 2015 while NXP itself is in the midst of a takeover by Qualcomm (although there have been recent signs of that deal stalling). If Qualcomm is ultimately successful with that deal it will be interesting to see if it looks to dispose of some of NXP’s patent portfolio and whether those assets end up in the hands of patent assertion vehicles.
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