Samsung’s Galaxy S5 from 2014 was among the devices Nvidia said used technology that infringed its patents.
Juan Garzón / CNET

Nvidia was handed a major setback Friday in its lawsuit with Samsung over the improper use of its graphics technology.

Thomas B. Pender, an administrative law judge for the US International Trade Commission, wrote that Samsung didn’t infringe on Nvidia’s graphics patents. He also determined one of Nvidia’s three patents is invalid because the technology had already been covered in previously known patents.

The decision deals a blow to Nvidia’s efforts to prove that Samsung illegally used its technology. If found guilty, Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the world, could face a ban on US shipments of certain products, including the Galaxy Note Edge, Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5. But the judge’s decision is an early recommendation, and the ITC still has to make a formal decision.

“Today’s initial determination is one more step in the ITC’s legal process,” Nvidia said Friday in a statement. “We remain confident in our case.”

Samsung declined to comment.

Nvidia, which is best known for making graphics chips for PCs, filed lawsuits with the ITC and US District Court in Delaware in September 2014 involving seven of its patents. At the time, Nvidia said it asked the ITC to block shipments of several Samsung smartphones and tablets to the US and requested the district court award damages for the alleged infringement.

Nvidia’s specialty in graphics is the focal point of the dispute. Samsung has tended to use Qualcomm’s processors in its high-end devices. The Note 4, for instance, uses a Snapdragon 805 chip. Samsung also uses its own Exynos chips in some models, particularly those sold in Korea and its newest products, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5. The devices mentioned in the suit involve Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics, ARM Holdings’ Mali technology and Imagination’s PowerVR graphics architecture, which are three of Nvidia’s main competitors in mobile graphics.

Beyond the smartphone, several Samsung tablet computers, including the Galaxy Tab S, Tab 2 and Note Pro, were listed as well.

Nvidia’s suit was only the latest in a series of lawsuits in the hot mobile sector. Samsung has been battling Apple for the past several years over technology used in its smartphones and tablets. The two companies a year ago agreed to settle all disputes outside the US, but their lawsuits continue in the country. Microsoft also has sued Samsung, saying it didn’t live up to its patent licensing agreement for technology used in Android tablets and smartphones.

Companies have tended to file lawsuits with the ITC to speed up the process of addressing the dispute. Civil suits could take years to go to trial, and they’re often held up for even longer in the appeals process. An ITC sales ban, however, could severely hurt a company’s profits or force the two sides to negotiate a settlement.

Reuters earlier reported the news.

Update at 5 p.m. PTwith Samsung declining to comment.

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Nvidia dealt blow in bid to block Samsung shipments into US