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Patents Businesses The Almighty Buck Apple Hardware

Apple Loses Patent Suit To University of Wisconsin, Faces Huge Damages (reuters.com) 312

An anonymous reader writes: Apple has frequently been in the news for various patent battles, but it's usually against one of their competitors. This time, Apple is on the losing end, and they're losing to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A jury found that the university's patent on improving processor efficiency (5,781,752) was valid, and Apple's A7, A8, and A8X chips infringed upon it. Those chips are found within recent iPhone and iPad models, which generated huge amounts of money. Because of the ruling, Apple could be liable for up to $826.4 million in damages, to be determined by later phases of the trial.
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Apple Loses Patent Suit To University of Wisconsin, Faces Huge Damages

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  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @07:44AM (#50724591) Journal

    I'm generally pretty against patents.

    However, I love seeing bad things happen to bad people, especially if it's ironic punishment. Yeah patents should probably be scrapped, but anyone who tries to patent rounded courners and then sues deserves to lose patent lawsuits.

    • Agreed, however, for many research orientated universities patents are a vital source of revenue.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Agreed, however, for many research orientated universities patents are a vital source of revenue.

        Wisconsin-Madison is a state-supported school. I realize these days it's considered okay to double- and triple-dip into taxpayers pockets, but this system where schools get to have tax money for research, and then patent the results for profit, is completely wrong. As a citizen, it means I'm paying for the research, then paying AGAIN to have any access to it. Based on state-granted monopoly.

        At best, any revenue derived from these university patents should go back into the general fund, not for the (une

        • Yeah, but how are you going to replace that funding? Increase funding from the state? Not in Wisconsin, zomg taxes. The state government is already doing its damnedest to gut higher education and running a large deficit, again thanks to tax cuts. I agree about patent licensing not really fitting into the vision of a public university system, but it's a reality that needs to be fixed as a unit, and that's really unlikely in many states.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          Wisconsin companies get to use the patent for free and profits are dumped back into the University state system, not just UW-Madison. I was paying $1.6k/sem back when they still help patents on certain ways to work with stem cells. Once the patent ended, prices jumped up. Of course if there is any federal money, the research needs to be open, but UW-Madison has a lot of private funding from alumni and keeps out federal money and uses only state tax money when it looks lucrative.

          So no, you're wrong.
    • Speaking of 'generally against patents'; is there anyone around who knows enough about CPU architectures to tell us if the patent in question is basically a 'restate idea painfully obvious to one skilled in the art and/or articulated in 1960 but not actually used because there weren't enough relays on earth to implement it' type patent, or whether it is actually something clever, non-obvious, etc?

      The grim world of software patents doesn't fill me with optimism about them; but if this is actually a decent
      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        UW-Madison has a strong computer engineering course. Freshmen that made it past the crazy hard 101 classes were getting called from IBM, Intel, and AMD asking what their plans were post-graduation for designing CPUs.
      • I am not someone who knows a lot about the subject, but it appears to be a patent on a method of doing out of order processing of instructions, which was pretty damn innovative in 1996.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @09:01AM (#50724975)

      I'm generally pretty against patents.

      Fair enough. Patents do have their problems and I would agree that our current patent system has huge flaws. So what is your alternative solution to the free rider problem [wikipedia.org]? That problem is the primary reason why patents (and copyrights) exist. I'm not opposed in principle to scrapping patents and doing something else. Our current system clearly needs major reforms but I have yet to hear anyone come up with any solution to the free rider problem that is better than a reformed version of a patent process. We know what scrapping the patent system would result in (it would not be good) because there are plenty of countries without such a system and it's easy to see the effects on their economies. So tell me, how do we solve the free rider problem so that we can get rid of patents? (and no, just ditching them wholesale will not work and won't happen anyway)

  • by bazmail ( 764941 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @07:46AM (#50724603)
    This story made me laugh. However I feel Apple will whittle away at the amount and get away with paying a tiny fraction.
  • Better coverage? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is there a better article somewhere that explains WHAT was the issue?

    • Re:Better coverage? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:08AM (#50724707) Journal

      Here you go [appleinsider.com].

      The IP in question, U.S. Patent No. 5,781,752 for a "Table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer," was granted to a University of Wisconsin team led by Dr. Gurindar Sohi in 1998. According to WARF and original patent claims, the '752 patent focuses on improving power efficiency and overall performance in modern computer processor designs by utilizing "data speculation" circuit, also known as a branch predictor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by zelphie ( 678912 )

        The linked article is just wrong -- this is not in any way a branch predictor. It's predicting when to perform load-store speculation. The idea is that when you execute a load, you may not know whether there are any in-flight stores to overlapping addresses that are earlier in program order. If there are, once you detect it, you will have to squash the load (because it might have gotten a wrong value) and re-execute, flushing the pipeline. That's bad from a performance and energy standpoint (for the sam

  • I'm pretty sure there's more loose change than that in the couch cushions at one infinite loop.

    The bigger question: does it also occur in the A9/A9X, or were they just not out when the lawsuit was filed. Could UW request an injunction against the current crop of processors as well?

  • A fairly diverse set of holdings: [wikipedia.org]Vitamin D in milk, warfarin (see what they did there?), and stem cell patents...

    oh yes, and that chip thing.

  • Jury competence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:13AM (#50724735) Homepage

    This is a very technical patent having to do with prediction. Not predicting branches, but predicting data. It might even be valid - I haven't kept up with processor architecture for too long. The gigantic question is: given the state of the art at the time this patent was filed, is it a logical extension obvious to a person "skilled in the art". That would be a very tough question to answer, even for an expert in the field.

    Just how is a jury of non-technical people supposed to figure this out?

    I'm sure they will have heard from Apple's experts: "This is obvious, a kid could figure it out", and the university's experts: "wow, what a clever invention". How will they have judged and compared these expert opinions? Their charisma? Their hairstyle?

    The whole patent system is one gigantic disaster. Even for potentially valid patents, the process is just wrong.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I asked a judge that question this weekend. The answer seems to be to let side a make an argument, then see what the other side says about it, the repeat until somebody blinks. Kind of like judging a debate where you don't really understand the meat of the arguments, only the jist. A really scarry situation in a country where you are guaranteed the right to be judged by your peers.

      1997 seems a really late time ( 30 years?) to have discovered statistical branch prediction in a cpu. But if so, Apple shoul

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The University seems to be arguing that Apple wilfully violated the patent. If that is the case then it is likely that they were able to show that Apple engineers enquired about the patent or obtained copies of it, which suggests that it isn't all that obvious. If it were they would have just quietly got on and implemented it without any help.

      Sadly we don't have any info on the arguments put forward, but since have asked the judge to consider wilful infringement it's likely that Apple's own actions pretty m

      • by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @09:47AM (#50725339)

        No you only do the not looking for patents thing if you are a startup. The key difference is that if your startup fails then nobody cares, and if your startup succeeds and you are challenged by a patent holder you can just negotiate royalties without them being able to threaten triple damages on you. If you are Apple you do due diligence and freedom to operate processes on any new tech area you operate in because you aren't going to get away with flying under the radar. They probably have in house lawyers who trawl patents checking for this stuff.

        More than likely Apple did a very thorough assessment of the patent and concluded that they did not think they were infringing it. They have now been found to be infringing it so of course the plaintiff is going to try to get wilful damages on the basis that they knew about the patent. Somebody at Apple stuffed up in their assessment and it looks like they should have just negotiated a license early on, but on the other hand you can't just go around paying off everyone who you think might be able to win a jury trial.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I'm not really convinced that Apple evaluate patents properly. They have had this problem before, e.g. with standards essential patents that they didn't want to licence under the usual RAND terms. It seems like their plan was basically to infringe and then argue the point in court, at least during the Jobs era.

  • by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:21AM (#50724761)
    Here's a nice windfall for the Job Creators of Wisconsin. This may be as much as another $800 million you can cut from University funding.
    • The UW's endowment is in excess of $2.3 billion. They will be just fine.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Ohh they could lower tuition..... Nahh, they will never do that.

    • Here's a nice windfall for the Job Creators of Wisconsin. This may be as much as another $800 million you can cut from University funding.

      It will be a double whammy. Not only will the state legislature have an excellent excuse to make an enormous cut in the UWM budget, but the university itself will use a very large chunk of that money to hire a small army of new administrators while growing the university bureaucracy at a furious pace, resulting in even higher overhead costs for future UWM research contra

  • Apple should be required to pay twice the entirety of the gross sales of all the infringing devices. That way, they're guaranteed to take a loss for this behavior, and will at least think twice before trying something like this again.
  • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:33AM (#50724823)

    The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the people who actually hold the patents (the university isn't allowed to have them directly), did a similar thing to Intel not all that long ago (5 years?). I guess I can't complain since WARF funds my research (and a lot of research on campus -- having an internal funding mechanism is great). However, I recall that a bunch of the Intel money was supposed to go to the college of engineering (COE), which seems to have spent the money redecorating Engineering Hall (which, admittedly, is super ugly) and cutting ECE teaching assistant positions. It would be nice if the COE got a chunk of this and actually put it to good use...

    • How do you spend money cutting teaching assistant positions? That's a pretty novel idea. Maybe they should patent it.

      Just think, recursive patents!

  • by enjar ( 249223 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:38AM (#50724841) Homepage

    Apple has somewhere around $200 billion in cash. If they have to pay $823 million they still will have around $200 billion in cash.

    If you buy something for around $200, do you care if it's $200 or $200.80? Do you really miss the extra 0.80?

    • by robi5 ( 1261542 )

      No worries unless it turns out someone has another 249 patents like this, which actually isn't a lot of patents.

  • by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @09:10AM (#50725029)
    Does this mean governor Scooter Walker can cut even more out of their budget?
  • 'Huge' damages against Apple of sub-1 billion is not all that noteworthy when revenue Q1 alone was $78+ billion. I reminds me of when Attorney General Janet Reno was going to hold Microsoft in Contempt threatening to fine $1 per day and Gate's response was something to the affect of "1 make a million an hour, f*ck them".
    • If that were even remotely true, Apple would send me (an you and ever other Slashdotter) an iPhone, iPad, iMac and for grins, a MacPro with matching MacBook pros in several configurations. It would not even touch their bottom line.

      You don't get to be a big, profitable company by giving money away (unless it's to executives, that is completely different.

  • Apple is currently earning around $18 billion in profit each quarter. So, while I'm sure it will be a boon for Wisconsin and Apple will try to get out of paying it - $823 million isn't going to hurt Apple's bottom line too much. I'm sure they see it as the cost of doing business.

  • by laughingskeptic ( 1004414 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @10:14AM (#50725537)
    These university patents are paid for by the tax-paying public, why does this no longer make them public domain?
    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      These university patents are paid for by the tax-paying public, why does this no longer make them public domain?

      Why would they be?

      It's not a requirement that the fruits of your research be automatically public domain if you have a source of public funds. Tax money is not the only source of income for these sorts of research groups and spin out companies.

      They frequently offer very favourable terms for non-commercial use, and make the meat of the licensing revenue on commercial interest. The purpose of doing it this way is to flow money back into the university. If it was all public domain then companies (like Apple) c

    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @02:24PM (#50728201)

      These university patents are paid for by the tax-paying public, why does this no longer make them public domain?

      "This" did not make them public domain in the first place, and ever since 1980 the Federal Government [wikipedia.org] has said that the patents can be owned by the universities themselves. The Federal Government gets to say so because state governments historically do not fund research, only educational activities and infrastructure. The Federal Government funds research (NIH, NSF, DARPA, etc.).

      As to why the inventions aren't simply dumped into the public domain: university research does not take a product to commercialization. It is proof of concept, at best. Companies developing truly new concepts to commercialization want IP protection, since the next company entering could otherwise simply reverse engineer and duplicate the functional aspects of the commercial product while claiming license to 'public domain' patent behind the new concept.

      Of course you can point to individual products that might have been commercialized anyway, but in aggregate the decision has been that this scheme will deliver more commercial products to market than the 'public domain' route.

      If you think differently, then write your Congresscritter.

    • Based on the other comments up above, it actually sounds like they weren't paid for by the tax-paying public. Rather, the research was funded by WARF, so it makes sense that they'd be the owner of the patents. It's no different than any other private corporation funding research at a public institution. The institution may be public, but not everything that comes out of it is.

  • I'm curious, have others licensed this tech, or is Apple simply the first to get sued? The article mentioned Intel, but what about other mobile manufacturers?

  • by nickweller ( 4108905 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @01:27PM (#50727615)
    "the present invention provides a speculation decision circuit [uspto.gov] for use in a processor capable of executing program instructions in an execution order differing from the program order of the instructions"

    Dynamically optimize the execution order of the instruction set depending on previous hits or misses.

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