In 2015, a jury found Apple had infringed on a patent owned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and hit the company with a $ 234 million verdict for infringement. Two days ago, a judge more than doubled the amount Apple had to pay, resulting in total charges of $ 506 million. The judge justified the charges by noting Apple had continued to infringe on the Wisconsin-Madison patent through December 2016, rather than paying its fee and working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a future licensing agreement.
The initial suit, brought by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and filed in 2014, claimed that some Apple iPhones infringed on a patent that covered a “predictor circuit.” The abstract on the relevant patent, granted in 1998, reads:
A predictor circuit permits advanced execution of instructions depending for their data on previous instructions by predicting such dependencies based on previous mis-speculations detected at the final stages of processing. Synchronization of dependent instructions is provided by a table creating entries for each instance of potential dependency. Table entries are created and deleted dynamically to limit total memory requirements.
WARF has sued Apple over the design of multiple products, including the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, the iPad Pro in 2015, and the iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus in 2014. The appeal process for the 2015 trial hasn’t been completed, so the damages and assessments discussed here are strictly applicable to the 2014 case.
The lawsuit’s various claims suggest the feature was introduced in the Apple iPhone 5s as part of the A7 family of products, and continued to be used in the A8 and A8X. The patent expired in 2016, but Apple can still be required to pay retroactive fees and fines. It’s not clear yet if Apple infringed on the patent with the iPhone 7 (which launched before the patent expired) or if it changed its own CPU designs prior to that phone’s launch.
Back in 2015, Apple attempted to have the patent re-examined, but the USPTO rejected its request. Apple also attempted to argue that if the patent was valid, it owed a much smaller amount than WARF settled with against Intel; that suit was settled in 2008 with payments of $ 108 million from Intel to WARF. Apple argued for a fee of 7 cents per device, while WARF initially asked for $ 400 million and $ 2.74 per device.
The judge’s decision to add $ 274 million to the initial sum means Apple will wind up paying more than what WARF asked for back in 2014, albeit not the $ 2.74 figure given how many more millions of iPhones have sold between October 2015 when the first case was decided and the present day. Given that one of the cases against the company hasn’t finished moving through the appeals process, there’s still a possibility of further fines as well.