Innovation Patent

Rectangles with rounded corners – Caltech, the newest entrant to Apple’s Patent War


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“It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners,” Samsung said in a statement following the 2012 verdict that went against them. Standing strong that the decision was not the last word on the matter, the much awaited appeal to the Supreme Court is to be heard in October this year. In a similar statement, Tim Cook applauded the decision for the loud and clear message that it sent: that stealing isn’t right. It is difficult to not see irony in that statement, with the past four years being notably peppered with patent litigation against Apple.

A saga that has mostly seen a Samsung/Apple face off, welcomes a new entrant with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) joining the fray. In a lawsuit against both Broadcom and Apple, Caltech alleges infringement of four of its patents, which involve the WiFi technology incorporated in the chips manufactured by Broadcom, and used by Apple in their products. These patents concern IRA/LDPC encoders and decoders that essentially provide for simpler coding, which in turn result in faster transmission rates. As with most such lawsuits, Caltech is calling for both damages, as well as a ban on the sale of the products that incorporate this technology. This week, Apple products AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule were pulled from U.S. Apple Stores. Although there is some speculation on the matter, it is not yet known whether this is merely to replace outdated versions, or is related to this lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time Apple has found itself in trouble with universities: their order of a USD 234 million pay off to the University of Wisconsin (specifically, to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation “WARF” – the University’s patent licensing body) last year was in stark difference to their monumental win over Samsung. The jury ruled that Apple had infringed the University’s patent when it incorporated their microchip technology found in the A7, A8 and A8X processors without permission from WARF. While Apple is to appeal that judgment, WARF has reportedly filed another lawsuit against them, which covers the same patent, but now includes the A9 processor in the claims as well.

Boston University too, sued Apple, amongst others, including Samsung and Amazon in 2013 for infringing their patent in a film semiconductor device, that essentially produces blue lasers or L.E.Ds. This case however, was settled out of court, and culminated in a licensing agreement. Interestingly, Bloomberg reports that over the past three decades, success in patent litigation has spurred universities to invest heavily in marketable research. In the largest royalty settlement with a University till date, Marvell Technology Group settled with Carnegie Mellon University, this year for USD 750 million, after a seven-year long battle in courts over the alleged infringement of the University’s patents in hard disk drives.

Apple’s battle with Samsung is no stranger to our blog, (read here, here and here) and it shows no signs of ending. While the USD 1.049 billion verdict in 2012 that has been whittled down in the series of appeals is to be concluded in the Supreme Court in October, the war is sure to continue. Although there is no news of legal action as of now, Samsung released the ‘C5’ last week, to be met with reviews calling it a blatant rip-off of the IPhone 6 and 6s. Amongst other lawsuits, patent trolls continue to attack Apple, with Corydoras Technologies being the most recent. After suing Samsung in March, they have now filed a lawsuit against Apple for a series of patents that deal with the phone’s standard functions. However, and as pointed out by The Verge, Caltech is unlikely to be acting as a patent troll – and hence, this case may well lead to another huge pay out by Apple if there is merit to be found in Caltech’s allegations.

With Ericsson now turning out to be a common name in India’s growing smartphone war, we are sure to see more such cases being filed – for a detailed list, refer to the Centre for Internet and Society’s compilation of India’s smartphone patent litigation cases. Interestingly, Indian manufactures do utilise American technology, (Karbonn, as well as Micromax have used Broadcom chips in the past) which might even open them up to suits such as this. While this case may bring up broader implications for innovation – as Swaraj delved into in his post on the Apple-Samsung verdict, whether or not it is relevant to India is something that needs to be discussed.

Perhaps our readers could help me out here – Would this have potential significance to India? Either as a decision that might influence or impact future Indian judgments, or perhaps directly affect the sale of Apple products in India – we can only wait and watch. Please do leave your views in the comment section below!

(Image taken from here.)

Inika Charles

Inika is a fifth year student at National Law University, Jodhpur, and is on the founding Board of Editors of the Journal of Intellectual Property Studies. She has a strong interest in Intellectual Property, and is fascinated with the intersection of IP with Technology and Media law. You can contact her at [email protected], or on Twitter: @inikacharles

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