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Scanner's VisionFlex 3D scanning system
Patent infringement over manufacturing techniques

A company called Scanner Technologies this week announced that it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against NVIDIA. According to the press release, Scanner Technology claims that NVIDIA willingly sold products based on a 3D ball-grid array (BGA) inspection system that allows for more reliable products. The system also allows better manufacturing efficiency.

Scanner Technologies is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions against NVIDIA, and hopes that it can get back legal and court fees as well. It is also seeking an undisclosed amount of damages from NVIDIA's product sales. According to Scanner Technologies:

The complaint alleges that nVidia has sold and/or is presently selling throughout the United States infringing BGA devices that are covered by one or more claims of the Scanner Patents. The complaint also alleges that nVidia has induced others to infringe. These BGA devices are a component in graphics cards, motherboards, computers, video game consoles, cell phones and handheld devices that are sold in the United States.

So far, NVIDIA has not responded to the suit. However, president and CEO of Scanner Technologies Elwin Beaty said "Scanner has been developing, manufacturing and selling vision equipment for the semiconductor industry since 1990. We believe that it is critical to protect our patented innovations, and accordingly took these actions today." The premise for the case is that NVIDIA developed its products using a similar technology to Scanner.

Sales for Scanner Technologies' products were up. The company ended June 30, 2006 with $1.57 million in sales compared to $955,000 for the same time last year.

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Why havent nVidia responded?
By PrinceGaz on 9/19/2006 7:20:16 PM , Rating: 2
So far, NVIDIA has not responded to the suit...

I wonder why?

Sales for Scanner Technologies' products were up. The company ended June 30, 2006 with $1.57 million in sales compared to $955,000 for the same time last year.

Because it's a company with a tiny turnover ($1.57M in sales, NOT profits). Unless nVidia really infringined on something genuine, they would be wasting time and especially money on mounting a legal defence against a company like that.

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By PrinceGaz on 9/19/2006 7:24:17 PM , Rating: 2
On an unrelated issue, I wonder why that VisionFlex thingy has a mini traffic-light signal sticking out the top of it (traffic-lights in the UK are Red, Amber, and Green with Red at the top).

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By phaxmohdem on 9/19/2006 8:14:08 PM , Rating: 2
I was actually thinking Wal-Mart Self Checkout lane light.

I'm sure its there to ensure that no underage kids purchase Rated R movies while scanning their BGA chips.

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By Poximex on 9/19/2006 9:32:32 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not going to pretend to know anything about manufacturing, but I do know the lights signal if the machine is working properly or has a problem on the assembly line.

By peternelson on 9/19/2006 10:42:14 PM , Rating: 2
Actually if you want some of these lights for your production line, I've seen them for sale from RS Components.

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By Giaour on 9/19/2006 10:54:04 PM , Rating: 3
Its used for applied lean manufacturing ... they are called ANDONs ... they are used for operations to do a visual check to see if the machine is working within established parameters ... and if not its helpful within an preventive maintenance routine as part of an OEE framework

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By shecknoscopy on 9/19/2006 11:23:27 PM , Rating: 2
On an unrelated issue, I wonder why that VisionFlex thingy has a mini traffic-light signal sticking out the top of it (traffic-lights in the UK are Red, Amber, and Green with Red at the top).

That, friends, is an "x-ray on" warning light. Or at least, in all the x-ray-utilizing equipment I've worked with (which is - now that I think about it - an eerie number), that's the warning indicator that lets you know if:

GREEN: the system is powering up,

YELLOW: the system is generating x-rays, but owing to a closed slit, is not releasing them to the outside environment or,

RED: Don't open up the shutter and look inside, moron, this thing's making x-rays.

SO, I don' know if this is an x-ray machine or not, but guess is it's using some sort of high energy or dangerous optics to scan the products, and hence needs to warn passers-by not to come too close.

Also, they direct traffic.


RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By Johnmcl7 on 9/20/2006 7:13:16 AM , Rating: 2
Just looks like a standard set of lights to me, I've seen them on various different manufacturing machines to indicate the status of the machine which varies depending on implementation. Green means the machine is running properly, no maintenance possible, orange means the machine has halted and there's a problem, red means the machine has been manually stopped and maintenance is possible. There's no high energy or anything inside, simply lots of moving parts which you don't want to be moving while you're doing maintenance.


By lemonadesoda on 9/20/2006 12:41:47 PM , Rating: 2
No it isn't. There's no X-RAY cover on the machine

RE: Why havent nVidia responded?
By stephenfs on 9/20/2006 10:07:12 AM , Rating: 2
I work in a semi-conductor plant, basically you have a large floor with 20-50 probers (wafer level testing), handlers(package level testing), and many other machines to run parts through to test them. There are always jams, to many consecutive fails, etc... things that cause the machine to beep loudly, and the light to change from green to yellow and wait for help. The light just helps the operator find the machine that needs attention. There are machines from many companies, and every one has a light just like that.

By peternelson on 9/19/2006 7:54:45 PM , Rating: 2
Some more financial information here:

Their stock trend has been downwards over the last few years. Morningstar give them F stock rating for growth and profitability (ie NOT). Financial health is rated C+.

In the last couple of weeks some volume trades and price rise (maybe news of the lawsuit was coming out and speculative buying).

Risk Management...
By wingless on 9/19/2006 8:01:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure NVIDIA has a fairly large Risk Management department and all of this will be handled by their insurance. Actually, Nvidia could buy that company if they wanted most likely. They have already branched into that business so as long as it doesnt violate the anti-trust laws it wont be a big step for them. THEN THEY WILL OWN THAT DARN PATENT!

RE: Risk Management...
By peternelson on 9/19/2006 10:34:13 PM , Rating: 2
That was my idea, they should just buy the company.

It has a market capitalisation of only $7m so pretty cheap to snap up together with their many extremely valuable intellectual properties ;-)

RE: Risk Management...
By peternelson on 9/19/2006 10:35:33 PM , Rating: 2
In fact, better yet, AMD can buy it in a bidding war against Nvidia. Then AMD/ATI can scoff at their arch rivals in gpus and say payup, losers.

RE: Risk Management...
By peternelson on 9/19/2006 10:40:19 PM , Rating: 2
By the way from a 1st August press release for the company, the two patents they are now suing Nvidia with were only granted to them very recently. They have in the past attacked others by taking out BGA lawsuits in the past, based on their other earlier patents.

Reminds me of a certain company <cough> Rambus <cough> in the memory market ;-)

RE: Risk Management...
By Tyler 86 on 9/19/2006 11:40:56 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't Rambus win a lawsuit?

Whether or not they're playing nice, fair, or dirty - it's up to the system to decide...

For no visible reason, I constantly find far to much prejudice among the tech industry...

It's absolutely proper in the financial world to negatively generalize about a company reguarding it's legal policies, but such prejudice spreads far to easily, influencing other fields as well.

Rambus isn't a bad company. They've had plenty of negative press, although they hold some impressive technical contributions.
Noteworthily, their trace-length reduction technology...

Perhaps this company is like SCO, who's prejudice I believe was not so much prejudice as due judgement...

Either way... Leave the <cough>coughing</cough> out of it.

RE: Risk Management...
By peternelson on 9/20/2006 11:56:51 AM , Rating: 2
My principal issue with Rambus is an ethical one.

They participated in the development of memory standards.

During these discussions they failed to mention that the standards they and the others were developing infringed on their patents.

They steered things so that the industry agreed on those standards. By the time rambus were no longer involved the direction had so much momentum behind it it was passed anyway.

Later, once everyone is making them, selling them, using them, Rambus "discover" the patents they had all along on the technology and demand huge licensing fees.

At very least it is unethical.

I suggest those setting standards, definitively establish any/all patents required to implement them. Claims should be made before standards are ratified. If there are too many claims then a different standard can be adopted, with less overheads.

RE: Risk Management...
By Tyler 86 on 9/20/2006 1:01:45 PM , Rating: 2
So let me get this straight...

Rambus & Micron et al. sitting around a table, developing memory standards...

Why shouldn't they use their IP in such a situation?
Did the other developers taboo the practice?

If someone was to take for granted my intellectual property in such a manner, I would wait untill it has high potential benefit for me before I call it up...

Standards are free-for-alls.
Standards have nothing to do with fair use.
It should be the developers job to only unquestionably implement the portion of development they themselves contributed, and to question the implementation of the rest in it's entirity, and not at all the least legally.

You can't optimize a 'standardization' process, it's supposed to be sloppy; it's one of the simplest developments of free enterprise, even if it has the potential to be it's worst.

That's why 802.11n, WiMAX, etc. take so long to come about.

RE: Risk Management...
By Schadenfroh on 9/19/2006 11:37:15 PM , Rating: 1
Nah, Rambus should by them. They have not attacked GPU makers... lately

RE: Risk Management...
By lemonadesoda on 9/20/2006 9:01:11 AM , Rating: 2
Don't encourage patent trolling.

A better method would be to countersue and bankrupt the company. Assests would be sold by the liquidator, AT MARKET PRICE. Perhaps there would be no bidders, and the patent could be gifted to public domain. ;-)

Ho hum
By INeedCache on 9/19/2006 7:06:48 PM , Rating: 2
The obligatory lawsuit of the day.

RE: Ho hum
By splines on 9/19/2006 7:34:39 PM , Rating: 2
This is going to turn out like the JPEG royalty battle.

Funny how a business that's practically down the gurgler suddenly develops an interest in some obscure lawsuit against a massive multinational.

Sue for the use of BGA? You better add the memory market to that list. And everyone else.

RE: Ho hum
By rcc on 9/20/2006 2:56:16 PM , Rating: 2
Not the use of BGA. The use of methods of inspection of BGA.

A patent for an inspection process. Hmmm.

If I had the time and money to spend I think I'd test and tax the patent process. Just for fun, sport, and amusement.

How do you find out about something like this?
By mgambrell on 9/19/2006 7:37:02 PM , Rating: 2
How do you find out about something like this? It sounds like their technique/machine is just helpful in creating a more precisely manufactured chip... i dont think it leaves telltale signs.. it is just a measurement device. Or so it appears. So how can anyone know? Did someone leak that fact to scanner?

By peternelson on 9/19/2006 7:49:36 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the patents appear to deal with aspects of the MANUFACTURING of the BGA device in a certain way so that it can be tested:

U.S. Patent 7,079,678, which is assigned to Scanner Technologies, is entitled “Electronic Component Products Made According to a Process that Includes a Method for Three Dimensional Inspection” and discloses a patented process which is directed to a step in the manufacture of a BGA device.

U.S. Patent 7,085,411, also assigned to Scanner Technologies, is entitled “Method of Manufacturing Electronic Components Including a Method for Three Dimensional Inspection,” discloses a method of manufacturing a BGA device.

By Locutus465 on 9/19/2006 10:57:24 PM , Rating: 2
did I read this right, nvidia is being sued over BGA? Hasn't intel been using the tech for a *long* time? why not sue them? bigger fish...

RE: hmmm
By Johnmcl7 on 9/20/2006 7:18:16 AM , Rating: 2
It's not BGA generally, it's specifically:

"3D ball-grid array (BGA) inspection system that allows for more reliable products"

What patent?
By peternelson on 9/19/2006 7:35:43 PM , Rating: 2
Well there are different ways to address the same problem, so maybe Nvidia's solution is sufficiently different.

Lots of companies assembled boards using BGA parts so I wonder if they could be affected too?

Is this suit against the process of assembling the bga onto the board , or the process of checking the BGA component (or manufacturing it to decrease defects) before it is ready for assembly?

It's entirely possible to use a kind of xray equipment to check if the solder pads are good. In patent legalese, something must be "non-obvious" whereas that sounds to me like an obvious extension of visual inspection.

However, this function is often done using the JTAG boundary scan protocol which enables all connections to be tested electronically using extra logic in the device itself. Many modern chips support JTAG testing.

I doubt NVIDIA used EXACTLY the same processes as this company patented so it may be down to legal arguments.

If anyone knows the specific patent(s) allegedly infringed, please post.

Mop Bucket?
By formulav8 on 9/20/2006 12:06:57 PM , Rating: 2
IT kinda looks like a automatic mop bucket?

By webmeister on 10/2/2006 5:02:14 PM , Rating: 2
I work for a small company that designs and sells board-level products. Scanner Technologies has threatened us with legal action simply for using bga devices on our boards!

Please note: we don't manufacture bga devices, nor do we have any means for discovering what processes and equipment were used to manufacture the bga parts we buy.

Elwin Beatty of Scanner Technologies informed us that:
(1) Scanner has determined that the majority of bga parts on the planet are made using equipment that infringes their patents, and
(2) any bga devices made on infringing equipment are tainted and thus also infringe, and
(3) my company uses bga devices, and so
(4) there is a high statistical probability that my company is guilty of infringement. We were told that the burden of proof of our innocence rested entirely on our shoulders and, absent such proof, we could expect serious legal action very soon unless we quickly agree to license the use of Scanner's patents and pony up our first annual license fee.

Scanner may have a legitimate gripe against companies that make competing bga manufacturing systems. IMHO it's a stretch to extend this animosity to the users of bga manufacturers who use those competing systems to manufacture bga's, and nothing short of extortion to threaten bga device users!

For the sake of Mr. Elwin Beatty's spiritual well-being, I hope that he outgrew this sort of schoolyard bully behavior when he became an adult and is only serving as an unwilling frontman for other, less civilized business associates.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein

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