Earlier this week, the U.S. Federal Circuit overruled the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in three different cases. The patents in question cover technologies developed by ATI Technologies, which AMD acquired in 2006, and LG Electronics. PTAB sided with LG, the Federal Circuit with AMD.
The PTAB dismissed ATI's patents because it believed they were "too obvious in light of prior art." When the Federal Circuit examined those claims, however, it found that ATI had invented the technologies described in the patents before that prior art existed. IP Watchdog reported that the PTAB had also bungled the case by misjudging the prior art issue, using the wrong standard for diligence, and otherwise failing to follow precedent.
We're more interested in the patents themselves. The issue revolves around U.S. Patent Nos. 7,742,053, 6,897,871, and 7,327,369. This patent trio is referred to as the Unified Shader Patents because they describe, well, the unified shaders at the heart of modern GPU architectures. Their invalidation would seriously undermine AMD by letting other companies make their own graphics solutions based on the tech in these patents.
That's something the company--quite predictably--doesn't want to happen. AMD has been increasingly protective of its intellectual property in recent years, especially when it comes to accelerated processor units (APUs) and GPUs. The company filed a complaint against Vizio, Sigma Designs, MediaTek, and LG with the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2017 for patents related to those technologies; the ITC decided in its favor.
Then in January, it sued MediaTek for using technologies covered by those same patents in everything from Internet of Things devices to television sets. AMD has made it clear that it doesn't want knock-offs of its graphics tech being used to allow TVs to offer ever-higher resolutions. (Or, as the resolution race slows down, things like HDR.) The Federal Circuit's decision should help support the company's efforts to stop that from happening.