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Apple’s Billion-Dollar Patent Loss Will Bring More Lawsuits

Apple Inc.’s near-billion-dollar loss Tuesday for violating a University of Wisconsin patent from 1998 that improves processor performance in all of its iPhone and iPad products will encourage more universities to sue tech companies.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) filed a similar suit against Intel Corp, but the case was settled in 2009 for an undisclosed amount of money on the night before trial. WARF sued Apple a year ago January, after failing to negotiate a licensing agreement.

Silicon Valley-based Apple denied any infringement and previously tried to convince the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to review and invalidate the patent’s validity, but in April the PTO rejected Apple’s bid, which became a major evidentiary finding in the trial.

According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge William Conley, who is presiding over the case, estimates that the company is liable for up to $862.4 million in damages. But that would only cover Apple’s violations for  its A7, A8 and A8X processors, found in the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus. WARF last month filed a follow-on lawsuit against Apple’s new A9 and A9X, used in the just-released iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, and iPad Pro, which are setting tremendous sales records.

The patent covers a method for improving processor efficiency and is titled “Table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer.” It lists several current and former University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers as the inventors.

Parallel processing increases computer speed by using multiple units to execute multiple instructions at the same time. An instruction level parallel (ILP) processing unit separates the individual instructions of a single program to be run on the different processing units. But the ILP processor may fetch multiple instructions at a single time, which then are allocated to separate processing units to read the data from memory and perform operations.

WARF’s invention of a “speculation circuit” reduces cumbersome inaccuracies in parallel processing through a “predictor” that determines whether a process should be executed or delayed based on the history of mis-speculations for that instruction.

With over $200 billion in the bank, losing $1 billion is not going to cause Apple to announce lay-offs or cut management compensation. But it will embolden other universities to prosecute their patents, rather than being intimidated by the cost of litigating large corporations and just licensing intellectual property for a fraction of its value.

The case is Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation v. Apple Inc in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 14-cv-62.

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