App processors/GPUs Semiconductors

Apple’s A7 processor infringes key patent, rules court

Just as the epic patents battle between Apple and Samsung may be drawing towards a climax in the US Supreme Court, so the iPhone maker faces another IPR dispute. A jury decided on Tuesday that Apple’s inhouse-designed A7 mobile processor infringes a patent owned by the University of Wisconsin, which could make Apple liable for up to $862m in damages.

Interestingly, Intel has already settled a dispute around one of same patents involved in this case. US Patent number 5,781,752 describes a “table-based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer” and was awarded in 1998. When the university sued Intel, the chipmaker settled before going to trial, paying a lump sum of $110m for a licence, according to a filing in the Apple case.

The university went on to file suit against the iPhone maker early in 2014 and after about a week of hearings last week, the jury found Apple had infringed the ‘752 patent (and five associated ones). A court order filed before the trial suggested a maximum damages of $862.4m.

The university, during the hearings, said Apple must have been aware of the ‘752 patent because it had referred to it as prior art, in some of its own patent applications. But the firm had a policy not to accept licensing proposals “from outside entities like WARF, making the litigation of this lawsuit necessary”.

It is unusual for Apple to be on the back foot like this in patents disputes. In its multi-fronted war with Samsung, it has won more points than it has lost, including the biggest and most high profile of their many trials, in San Jose. Finally, the saga may be nearing an end after four long years. Samsung says it will appeal against the latest damages figure it faces for infringing Apple patents – $548m – and this would take the case to its last possible port of call, the Supreme Court.

After a long series of trials and hearings, a court ordered Samsung, earlier this year, to pay most of the original jury award, but at the same time, he US Patent and Trademark Office had re-examined some of the patents at issue and said that one of the design patents which has been central the case should never have been granted to Apple (it also ruled that one of the utility patents in the case was invalid).

This will be the key grounds for Samsung’s appeal and the result will be about more than money – it will also reflect on Apple’s controversial approach to its patents, including its aggressive defence of design, rather than technology, IPR (that led the central Samsung fight to be nicknamed the ‘war of rectangles’ because it was about the shape of the iPhone).

Samsung is also arguing that the order of immediate payment could result in irreparable harm, and on Friday a judge issued an emergency temporary stay of the judgment pending the appeal to the Supreme Court.

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