US Supreme Court Rejects Wisconsin’s Apple Patent Appeal

It was good news for Apple’s legal department this week when the US Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge by the University of Wisconsin’s patent licensing arm.

The University of Wisconsin had been hoping that the Supreme Court would restore its legal victory against Apple over a patent dispute that involved older iPhones and iPads.

The case began back in 2014 when the university’s licensing body, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), filed a lawsuit against Apple for patent infringements.

Patent dispute

The patent was filed back in 1998 and is called Table and is based on a data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer. Essentially, it deals with technology built into processors that makes them more energy efficient.

The University of Wisconsin had previously sued Intel and reached an out-of-court settlement back in 2008 over the same patent.

But WARF alleged that Apple had also been using the technology covered in the patent, apparently in its A7 series of chips found in the iPhone 5S, 6, 6 Plus and iPad Mini. A separate lawsuit made the same claim for Apple’s 6S and 6S Plus, which uses its A9 and A9X chips.

The university claimed that Apple had ignored its offers to license the patent, which left little alternative for the university but to sue Apple in January 2014, alleging the iPhone maker was wilfully infringing its patent.

Apple rejected WARF’s claim, and said its processor worked differently based on the specific language spelled out in WARF’s patent. But Apple had failed to get the US Patent and Trademark Office to rule that the patent was invalid.

Then in October 2015, the University of Wisconsin scored a significant legal victory when a federal jury in Madison, Wisconsin ruled that the patent was valid, and that Apple’s A7, as well as its A8 and A8X processors violated the patent.

Apple was initially facing a damages payout of up to $862m (or £704m in real money), but in the end the federal jury ordered Apple to pay $234m (£191m) in damages.

However, according to Reuters, a judge later added supplementary damages and royalties based on Apple’s continued infringement through the December 2016 expiration of WARF’s patent, and issued a $506.1 million judgement against Apple in 2017.

Supreme court

But in 2018 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialised patent court located in Washington, overturned the jury verdict, saying that based on the “plain and ordinary” meaning of the patent, Apple could not have infringed it.

Of course the University of Wisconsin was not happy with this development, and WARF then appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

It argued that the Federal Circuit incorrectly ignored the jury’s understanding of the patent and its role in determining the facts of the case. WARF also sought the Supreme court to send the case back to the lower court so that it could present more evidence.

But the justices declined to review a lower court’s 2018 decision to throw out the $506 million in damages that Apple was ordered to pay.

But the University of Wisconsin is not giving up.

A spokesperson for WARF told The Hill in a statement that it would continue to pursue damages from Apple.

“While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, we are still pursuing Apple’s infringement in US District Court,” a WARF spokesperson reportedly said.

“As the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s patenting and licensing arm, WARF has an obligation to diligently protect the intellectual property rights of our UW-Madison partners, and we look forward to continuing to defend those rights in the District Court,” the spokesperson added.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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