SAN JOSE — U.S. District Court Judge William Gray ruled Tuesday that NEC Electronics Corp. did not infringe on Intel Corp.'s copyright in the latest development in a 4 1/2-year dispute over microprocessors.
Gray, a Los Angeles federal judge asked to decide the landmark legal fight, said that the microcode in Japan-based NEC's V20/30/40/50 microprocessors did not infringe the copyright Intel alleged it had in the microcode for its 8086/8088 chips.
In fact, Gray held that Intel had forfeited its copyrights for the 8066/88 by allowing the distribution of copies without copyright notice.
"This is a tremendous victory for NEC," said company spokesman Hank Josefczyk. "The real winners, though, are the customers. This decision means that they can take advantage of the superior benefits of these V Series microprocessors without any concern about the outcome of the trial."
The case had been keenly monitored in Silicon Valley because of its potential precedent-setting implications for the computer industry. The ruling giving copyright protection to microcodes meant that some of the most sensitive secrets of U.S. high-technology companies could be protected, observers said.
Intel alleged that NEC infringed on the copyrights of its microcodes with the introduction of its so-called V-Series chips and sought a court order to stop the Japanese chipmaker from continuing to market the product.
NEC countered with two arguments: That Intel failed to take the necessary steps to ensure the copyright of its microcodes and that, in any case, the NEC product was not a duplication of the Intel technology.
Gray was the second judge to enter the case, having taken over from U.S. Northern District Judge William Ingram, who disqualified himself in December 1987 because he owned about $80 in Intel stock through an investment club.