Apple Loses University of Wisconsin Patent Lawsuit, Faces $862M Fine
A decision by a jury in Wisconsin could leave Apple on the hook for up to $862 million in damages related to a patent dispute with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Filed last year, WARF's lawsuit contends that Apple's use of certain processors in some of its iPhones and iPads infringes upon technology developed by university researchers in 1996.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisconsin, yesterday found that WARF's patent for microprocessor technology -- U.S. Patent No. 5,781,752 -- is valid, and that Apple has used that technology in many of its devices without the university's permission. In the next phase of the trial, the court will determine the exact amount of damages Apple might face. WARF is seeking an award of up to $862.4 million, according to court documents.
WARF claims that Apple is using university-developed technology in its A7, A8 and A8X system-on-a-chip processing units. Those processors are used in the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus; the iPad Air and Air 2; the iPad mini 2, 3 and 4; the sixth-generation iPod Touch; and the fourth-generation Apple TV.
'A Major Milestone' in Microprocessing
An Apple spokesperson told us today that the company declined to comment on the court decision. A WARF representative did not respond to our request for comment.
The technology described in U.S. Patent No. 5,781,752 -- the "752 patent," as it is referred to in the lawsuit -- was developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Andreas Moshovos, Scott Breach, Terani Vijaykumar and Girundar Sohi. Described as a "table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer," the technology has been "recognized by those in the art as a major milestone in the field of computer microprocessing," according to the WARF lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that Apple has cited the 752 patent, granted in 1996, as "relevant prior art" in its own patent applications since that time. It added that Apple's policy "not to accept or consider proposals regarding licensing from outside entities like WARF . . . [made] the initiation of this lawsuit a necessity."
The technology in question essentially helps make devices "smarter" based on past actions. WARF's patent, describes a technology that "permits advanced execution of instructions depending for their data on previous instructions by predicting such dependencies based on previous mis-speculations," the lawsuit stated.
In a petition to the court last year, Apple argued that some of WARF's claims regarding the technology were "unpatentable as obvious."
The company also sought to reduce the potential damages by nearly $200 million, arguing that WARF had forfeited some of its rights because products made following a 2009 licensing agreement with Intel were not marked with the patent. In a ruling ahead of this month's trial, U.S. District Court Judge William Conley denied that request from Apple.
Mark Nowotarski, a registered U.S. patent agent specializing in design patents, told us this case illustrates both the technological and legal complexities of smartphones.
"I think people have no idea how many threads of technology come together to make a smartphone happen," he said. WARF's patent, "sounds like a pretty important core technology," he added.
Nowotarski noted that WARF's complaint is facing a ticking clock, as its 20-year patent on the technology is due to expire next year. The lawsuit reflects what are essentially "high-stakes negotiations" between Apple and WARF, he said. Whether the organizations can reach an agreement on damages before the case moves on, however, "depends on how far apart they think the numbers might be," Nowotarski added.
Posted: 2015-10-16 @ 1:46am PT
WARF is an obvious patent troll. Seeing as they never sought to use the patent system for what it was meant for, I'd say their claim should be discarded by default.