The US District Court for the Central District of California this week ruled that Broadcom’s W-Fi chips used by Apple infringe on patents helds by the California Institute of Technology, and further ruling that the companies must pay Caltech roughly $1.1 billion for damages. Apple and Broadcom plan to appeal.

The patents in question cover Irregular Repeat Accumulate (IRA) codes, an error-correcting code (ECC) technology that allows data to be reconstructed if some bits are scrambled during transmission. Researchers from Caltech published a paper describing IRA codes back in 2000 and then filed multiple patent applications. IRA codes were eventually adopted by 802.11n (introduced in 2009), 802.11ac (de-facto launched in 2013), and digital satellite transmission technologies.

Caltech tried to license its patents to various parties for years, but then the institute filed a lawsuit against Hughes Communications and Dish Network in 2015, and against Broadcom in 2016 (eventually adding Apple as a defendant). Dish Network and Hughes settled the dispute with CalTech in 2016, but Apple and Broadcom asserted that since IRA codes were an extension of previously published ECC-related papers, Caltech’s patents in question were invalid and should not have been granted. Over the lifetime of the dispute, patent judges, the US Court of Appeals, and now a federal jury sided with Caltech.

Apple has used Broadcom’s violating Wi-Fi chips in hundreds of millions of devices, including iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, since 2012. As a result, it was ordered to pay Caltech $837 million, or $1.40 per device, according to Engadget. Meanwhile, Broadcom was ordered to pay $270 million.

Apple, which called itself “merely an indirect downstream party,” told Reuters that it planned to appeal the decision. Broadcom plans to do the same. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Caltech plans to file lawsuits against other manufacturers of equipment that features technologies which use IRA codes.

The statement by Caltech reads:

“We are pleased the jury found that Apple and Broadcom infringed Caltech patents. As a non-profit institution of higher education, Caltech is committed to protecting its intellectual property in furtherance of its mission to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education.”

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Sources: Ars Technica, Reuters, Engadget, Court Listener

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  • PeachNCream - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    I would hate to own a phone that has 95,109 unread e-mails waiting for me. Yikes!

    With regards to the lawsuit - Eh, whatever. Appeal is pending so nothing has really changed just yet.
    Reply
  • Makaveli - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    I've seen worse know a few lawyers. Reply
  • Samus - Sunday, February 2, 2020 - link

    ^^^ Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, February 3, 2020 - link

    Is that just a lawyer thing? I would think approaching 100K in unread e-mail traffic would be an indicator of some pretty terrible spam filtering, a VERY broken mail server, or years of inbox laziness and neglect. If that's the latter, then I certainly would not want to retain a lawyer that is so irresponsible. Reply
  • npz - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    > "Researchers from Caltech published a paper describing IRA codes back in 2000 and then filed multiple patent applications."

    > "Caltech tried to license its patents to various parties for years, but then the institute filed a lawsuit against ...."

    I hate this kind of insidious behavior, which is all too common among academic institutions and how we get proprietary, license requiring code into common standards (802.11n/ac here) At the very least, be honest, don't publish it first. Create a working proof of concept, then file and gain the patent, then publish the paper, disclosing the patent license requirement upfront -- in that order -- and then maybe they'll be successful in soliciting licensees for their patent.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    What are you talking about?

    The patented component in question is an algorithm. It's already "implemented."

    802.11n spec "incorporated" the algorithm. The standards body could've picked a different one. Broadcom AFAIK is part of that standards body.

    The algorithm itself is the working proof of concept. The concept is an interference-resistant ECC.
    Reply
  • npz - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    That is exactly what I'm talking about. The algorithm was incorporated into the spec because it was published as an academic paper, recommended among members before being patented. Why do you think Caltech had an impossible time trying to extort licenses from 802.11x h/w companies and their licensees? I'm saying the process needs to be revised. At the very least, this would put up some resistance among IEEE members in knowing that every single proposal coming their way would require XX dollars to Y member. Reply
  • JHBoricua - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    How did you come to that conclusion? Two out of the three patents in question were granted in 2006 and 2008 respectively, so between one and three years before the 802.11n standard was introduced. The application for the first one dates back to 2001, almost 8 years before 802.11n was introduced. The 2nd patent application was filled in 2006.

    The third patent application was submitted a year before 802.11n was introduced, and granted two years before the 802.11AC standard was introduced.
    Reply
  • npz - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    Was that before final ratification or during the draft phase? Because I distinctly remember that end user hardware manufacturers had already released 802.1n "draft" spec commercial hardware on the shelves, before the final 802.11n spec was approved. So given the lead time for the commercial h/w device maker + h/w chip maker of a few years, releasing 802.11n-draft spec h/w would've put it before patents were granted. Reply
  • Santoval - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    You make it sound as if everything that is published in science journals automatically enters the public domain, which is clearly not the case. Publishing first and getting patents later is the most common practice. Reply

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