This drops squarely into the "Didn't see it coming," pile. VIA announced yesterday that it's suing Apple for alleged infringement of three VIA patents. The declaration could nearly get lost in the blizzard of legal motions surrounding Apple, but this situation is odd enough to deserve notice.
VIA claims that Apple has infringed on three US patents: 6253312, 6253311, and 6745810. The first covers a method and apparatus for performing a double operand load; the second two describe bidirectional conversion and transfer of integer and floating point data.
Unlike most of the vaguely-worded patents that spawn legal cases all three of these describe specific means of executing certain functions within a microprocessor. Specificity doesn't guarantee that the patents will hold up under scrutiny, but it does give VIA stronger ground to stand on.
"VIA has built up an extensive IP portfolio consisting of over 5,000 patents as a result of significant investments in world class technology research and development," commented Wenchi Chen, CEO, VIA Technologies, Inc. "We are determined to protect our interests and the interests of our stockholders when our patents are infringed upon."
The real oddity here is the fact that VIA is suing Apple in particular. The chips Apple uses are, so far as anyone has been able to determine, based on ARM's Cortex-A9 with some of the extraneous I/O logic stripped aay. The patents VIA lists would cover core processor functions, which makes it unlikely that Apple would've modified them.
This raises the question of why VIA is suing Apple as opposed to ARM--and the most likely answer, even if the patents are judged valid, is that Apple is a juicy, high-profile target. Apart from that, there's no clear business motive--VIA's work on the Nano has been aimed at improving its value and performance in the netbook/nettop segment, not preparing it for a tablet or smartphone launch.