Patent Trolling Carnegie Mellon Wins What Could Be Largest Patent Verdict Ever: $1.2 Billion

from the universities-as-patent-trolls dept

The Apple/Samsung patent battle has been getting lots of attention, but a new verdict has eclipsed the record $1.05 billion that a jury awarded in that case -- and this time its to Carnegie Mellon University, after a jury has ruled that Marvell Technology Group should have to pay $1.17 billion for infringing a single claim in each of two patents. Specifically, the company was found guilty of infringing on claim 4 of US Patent 6,201,839 which reads:
A method of determining branch metric values for branches of a trellis for a Viterbi-like detector, comprising:

selecting a branch metric function for each of the branches at a certain time index from a set of signal-dependent branch metric functions; and applying each of said selected functions to a plurality of signal samples to determine the metric value corresponding to the branch for which the applied branch metric function was selected, wherein each sample corresponds to a different sampling time instant.
And claim 2 of US Patent 6,438,180 (which is a continuation patent of the '839 patent), which reads:
The method of claim 1, wherein the branch metric function is selected from a set of signal-dependent branch metric functions.
And, for that, the jury says that they need to pay $1.17 billion -- which the judge now has the option of tripling, as the jury also found that the infringement was willful. Of course, at this stage, the ruling is somewhat meaningless, because it will be appealed, and we'll have to wait for that whole process to play out. However, if the verdict does stand, it will be the largest ever patent award. Other verdicts have come in higher, but have all later been reduced (sometimes significantly). Furthermore, Marvell argued during the trial that a different patent held by Seagate, US Patent 6,282,251 was not only filed and granted way before the Marvell patents, but that it covers everything in both of those patents.

Now, as is the case in so many patent fights, many people assume that the defendant "copied" the patent, or that this was about a business deal gone wrong. However, as came out during the trial, CMU has never licensed this patent to anyone. It just sat on it and sued. As Joe Mullin covers in his coverage of the rulings, this is yet another case highlighting how many universities are acting just like patent trolls these days, trying to justify their failed "tech transfer" investments into patents by playing the game exactly like patent trolls. Furthermore, CMU's lawyers completely played up the entirely bogus story line that Marvell somehow "stole" these ideas from CMU -- even prompting objections and the judge stepping in to warn the lawyers to stop with the bogus claims:
Marvell lawyers said CMU's closing statement was "rife with misrepresentations," including suggestions that Marvell "broke the chain of innovation by not paying the royalties that they now owe," and noting those payments would be used "to fund further research, to lead to further innovation." That resulted in a short conference at the side bar, in which the judge warned "you can't dig deep into all of CMU's contributions to society and mankind."

CMU's attorney also started to compare Marvell's alleged patent infringement to identity theft. "The invention in this case is like your electronic identity, your credit card numbers, your Social Security number," said CMU lawyer Douglas Greenswag. "It's that which [sic] are very personal and valuable to you. You devote years to building up your reputation, your credit rating, your standing. One day Marvell sneaks in—"

At that point he was cut off by an objection and was not able to complete the analogy.
This is the sad legacy of the Bayh-Dole Act, which made it much easier for universities to get patents on their research. Rather than increasing their ability to do the fundamental research that is needed to help develop new technologies, universities have, instead, been trying to hoard patents to use to sue companies who actually innovate, usually with no knowledge of the patents held by the universities. Rulings like this one will not encourage greater spread of knowledge, information and research, but will only serve to incentivize universities to continue to act more and more like trolls, in hopes of a giant payday. That such crazy lawsuits may destroy companies who are actually out there innovating is, apparently, not much of a concern.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    weneedhelp (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:03am

    "That such crazy lawsuits may destroy companies who are actually out there innovating is, apparently, not much of a concern."

    Works just fine according to boBjoeblue.

     

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    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
       
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      out_of_the_blue, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:37am

      Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

      You've proved yourself both a knee-jerk yahoo and fearful of opposition.

      In fact, I've MANY times stated that patents should be only for physical devices with a working model required, and opined that corporations (as are universities) shouldn't own them at all only "natural" persons, and even for them a means test should be applied to prevent the already Rich from obtaining gov't protection during a limited period. So you're multiply wrong.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:01am

        Re: Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

        Hey blue, I thought ad homs are only resorted to when you have no argument to make and a sign that someone is a weak person or some such nonsense.

        "a knee-jerk yahoo"

        I guess that's only when other people do it though, right? Doesn't apply when you do it. You ankle biter you.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:46am

        Re: Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

        Oh crap, I can actually agree with part of your patent idea.. the Physical model needed physical devices only... I think I will find a quiet corner some where an analysis where my life went wrong to agree with you...

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:50am

          Re: Re: Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

          now the means testing bs is crap (what happens to people who are successful inventors, can i only get patents till im defined rich by your methodology, thats stupid and promotes nothing, how do i get investors if you will take the patent as soon as i hit some line in the sand....)

           

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        weneedhelp (profile), Dec 28th, 2012 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

        Blah blah blah wah wah wah. Shut the fuck up blue.

        "I've MANY times stated" You have stated many times crazy bullshit that is out of this world, and done nothing to advance your cause. You are a lame troll who's comments I dont even read anymore. I just go for the report button.

        So now even if you post a well thought out [fighting off laughter] well presented viewpoint... no one will listen... ever. You made your bed you crazy fuck now live with it.

         

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        weneedhelp (profile), Dec 28th, 2012 @ 9:08am

        Re: Re: @ The willful besides stupid misrepresentation by "weneedhelp" - "Works just fine according to boBjoeblue."

        "a knee-jerk yahoo" Fucking LOVE it. Almost as good as lord high piracy apologist... almost.

        Yahoooo-ooooo.

         

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    BentFranklin (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:05am

    It doesn't appear that "trolling" is the right word for CMU's behavior, since they actually sued in good faith and didn't simply settle for damages below what a defense would have cost.

    That said, I have problems with universities and other organizations using public money to develop technology and then getting patents awarded and cutting out the public who funded them.

     

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      MrWilson, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:11am

      Re:

      If they didn't license the patents to anyone, they are trolls. It's one thing to patent what you research and be a non-practicing entity, but then to not actually license the patent to anyone seems to indicate that you're planning on suing to make money. That's a significant aspect of a troll: believing that lawsuits are a legitimate business model.

       

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        Arsik Vek (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:22am

        Re: Re:

        My understanding from reading other articles is that they did actually try to pursue a license for Marvell for several years before filing suit. And this damage total is for ten years of willful infringement. I have trouble calling it patent trolling in that light.


        Of course, I think the patent is ridiculously broad and should be invalidated, but it hasn't been yet.

         

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          JEDIDIAH, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 12:41pm

          It's not so simple.

          It was a difference of opinion, not "willful infringement".

          We can debate the validity of the relevant patents or even patent policies in general, but defending your rights should never be an excuse to treble damages or an assumption of "guilt".

          Marvell claimed that they were using some other "invention".

           

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            Arsik Vek (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 1:40pm

            Re: It's not so simple.

            Marvell claimed that they were using some other "invention".

            Marvell claimed that Seagate's patent was prior art that invalidated the CMU patent. The correct course of action is not "Welp, we're good." It's to use that to try to have the CMU patent invalidated. They didn't do that until they got sued.

             

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              MrWilson, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 2:35pm

              Re: Re: It's not so simple.

              Nah, the correct course of action is... we're all fucked to begin with so it doesn't matter what you do!

              Until we have real patent reform, the rules can be bought.

               

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 9:14pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Any citations to the articles you found? Also, you must have meant to say that the claims are believed by you to be ridiculously broad. Why is this so? This is not exactly a easy invention to assimilate by one not fully schooled in the applicable technology.

           

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      Vincent Clement (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:14am

      Re:

      Or cutting out the people that actually 'invented' this 'invention'. Will CMU forward any of that award to Kavcic and Moura?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:38am

        Re: Re:

        Come on, that would be rational.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 12:57pm

        Re: Re:

        Good point. In the danish implementation it ended up costing significant percentages of all non-specific research grants for all the projects on the universities. It may proove a very lucrative business in about 15-20 years (when the first patents start running out) but right now it is strangling innovation on universities bigtime since the costs are not even close to being covered by the licensing yet!

         

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    Vincent Clement (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:11am

    How does a jury go from infringing on two claims to 1.17 billion dollars? There are 28 claims in the 6201839 patent. If we assume that half of the award is for this patent, then this patent is worth at least $16 billion.

     

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    Ken, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 10:52am

    The patent in question states "This invention was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ECD-8907068. The United States Government has certain rights in the invention."

    As we are supposed to be a government "of the people and by the people" I guess I have some rights to this patent. I hereby grant my rights in the patent to Marvell Technology Group and wish them well!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:50am

    Are patents about to replace published papers as a measure of a universities prowess?

     

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    Minimum Wage Shill, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 12:17pm

    Of course the infringement was intentional, anything you do is intentional infringement since everything you do is infringement. So all infringement is intentional infringement.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 12:21pm

      Re:

      Well, "intentional infringement" is when you are aware that you are infringing but do it anyway. If you accidentally infringe, it's still infringement, but not intentional. Intentional infringement can come with harsher penalties than accidental infringement.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    If this is the "envy of the world" system I am afraid to look how it is elsewhere.

     

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    Binko Barnes (profile), Dec 27th, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    There's obviously not enough money to be made any longer in squeezing higher and higher tuition out of students. So here's the new game plan for universities.

    1) Get maximum grant money and develop obscure technologies.
    2) File for maximum number of broad patents.
    3) Sit on patents and keep them secret.
    4) Sue any company doing any work in these obscure technologies, effectively shutting down all innovation.
    5) Make billions!
    6) Massive bonuses for administrators!

    Sounds like par for the course in the new America where the goal is always to maximize wealth for administrators, executives, lawyers and insiders and nobody gives a shit for the damage done to society as a while.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2012 @ 7:44pm

    I don't see how a patent extortion racket is even legal.

     

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    Sonja (profile), Dec 28th, 2012 @ 12:44am

    what is patentable?

    I thought math formulas and algorithms is not patent-able. And reading the patents it seems like, along with the algorithm, this patent is making use of decision making process. This process would then be a business process which is also not patent-able. Could someone please explain and correct me if I am wrong.

    tx much
    :)

     

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    hannox, Dec 28th, 2012 @ 1:31pm

    I am shocked and appalled that (1) a university would effectively engage in patent trolling (2) that a home town jury could be given the responsibility to decide upon the fate of a corporation without having any appreciation whatsoever for the intricacies and complexities of patent infringement, particularly given the nebulous nature of the CMU vs Marvell case. In handing down this verdict, they have undoubtedly open the floodgates for every University in the US to exercise their "free option" and sue every large corporation in existence for patent infringement. This will place a noose around the neck of both innovation and entrepreneurialism in the US. Of course, it will be manaa from heaven for the ambulance chasing legal parasites. Also suggesting that two patents among hundreds (possibly thousands) could command a royalty stream of 50c per unit shipped is fanciful. For example, ARM in their most recent 2011 20-F garnered a licence fee + royalty of just 8.8c per unit shipped. Applying this to the MRVL case would result in a figure closer to $200m, however, even this appears ludicrously high given the circumstances outlined above. Whatever the case, I think it is absolutely paramount that the judgement is overturned on appeal. Otherwise, Pandoras Box will have been opened on an industry that is fuelling a large part of the growth in the US.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 10:27pm

    This lawsuit is playing out like the Trial of R. Kelly episode of The Boondocks.

    http://youtu.be/8YxB7oLnxCg?t=13m22s

    No logic. Just emotional appeals.

     

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