back to article Crushing $1.17bn Marvell patent judgment could set record

A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania jury has found chipmaker Marvell guilty of infringing patents owned by Carnegie Mellon University, resulting in what could prove to be the largest patent damage award in US history. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the jury awarded the university a judgment of $1.17bn after determining that …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So is this yet another case of Americans giving patents for vaporware? And in doing so wrecking companies that employ normal people?

  2. Charles 9 Silver badge

    Carnegie-Mellon University is hardly a vaporware firm. Universities and other institutes of higher learning are usually at the forefront of technology research and development. It's only fair that they patent their innovations. The idea is to license them to companies under agreeable terms. They're not patent trolls because CMU actually DEVELOPED the pertinent technologies.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So you think university researchers are pointless idiots doing crackpot research that has no use?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't waste your time. There are so many freetards on here who think technology just appears by magic.

    Such people think a Blu-ray disc is over-priced because they only cost £1 to produce (conveniently forgetting he film on it cost millions to make).

  5. Hud Dunlap
    Coat

    Blackboard patent

    So what I am reading is that CMU came up with a theoretical method for doing something but never actually were able to make a real device. The is very much like Richard Feynmans patent on the nuclear submarine (read "surely you are joking Mr. Feynman").

    Just because CMU is a university with lots of Government funding doesn't mean that they are not a vapor ware firm.

  6. Tinker Tailor Soldier
    Thumb Up

    Re: Blackboard patent

    This. Patents shouldn't be accepted without a realization and a documented best mode.

  7. Eric Olson
    FAIL

    Re: Blackboard patent

    Like it or not, folks, but patents as originally envisioned in US Law did not require the "realization" of a product, production of a product, or successful commercialization of a product. The express purpose was to protect the inventor, creator, etc., from having their theory "acquired" by someone with deeper pockets or more patience.

    A patent's purpose is to allow some person or group the chance to take an idea to market without having to worry about having it stolen, copied, or otherwise infringed upon by another market player. If, as in this case, a market participant is found to have infringed upon an awarded patent, they must contest the awarding of the patent; failing that, they need to prove that they did not do so knowingly. In the case of Marvell, the findings to this point show that they not only infringed on an awarded (and therefore publicized) patent, but did so knowing they were infringing. This is how patent law is supposed to be used.

    The reason for all of this is that back before the commercialization of invention and creation, a person in the garage or shed would conceive of a new way of doing an existing process or an entirely new way of doing something. However, working out of said shed might preclude them from "creating" a product, or perhaps they are not savvy enough in the materials. A patent protects that person from being robbed blind by someone else the inventor entrusts with the secrets, the process, or just the idea in hopes of commercializing it. If the inventor wants to sell the patent to someone else that's their prerogative, hence licensing agreements and the like.

  8. Tezfair
    FAIL

    "(conveniently forgetting he film on it cost millions to make)"

    So the millions it makes at the box office no longer appears on the balance sheet?

  9. Da Weezil
    WTF?

    I think those "freetards" to which you refer to feel the same way about the apparent disproportion in price (compared with vanilla DVD) as they do about the ridiculous cost of a downloaded (CD) album compared with a physical product (carrying with it all the costs of production, distribution and store overheads).

    The premium attached is not justified.

  10. h3

    RE: AC 00:51

    Dunno about whether I think it comes by Magic I don't think technology is "special" at least compared to Maths and hard science. I don't mind patents on chip design etc etc don't like patents on look and feel or software patents. (Where would we be today if Microsoft had patented and was enforcing every one of the common controls and the basic web fonts.)

    Blu Ray disks are overpriced at RRP (Especially when I have paid for the film 3 times now). Just got Back to the Future trilogy on Blu Ray for £8 at that price it was just about ok but it seems like they didn't put much effort into it. (Far too much junk prior to the movie playing as well). I don't really care about people ripping off films though. (They rip off actors by their accounting practices so it is hard to care about people not paying for their mostly awful product. Most of the changes from books that I quite liked are for the worst or pointless.)

    Best policy to take towards a company is do as they do. (If they help people who helped them then maybe they are company worth supporting). If they routinely totally screw over the customer then do all you can to screw them over. (Or just don't buy anything of theirs if you haven't already.)

  11. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    Re: RE: AC 00:51

    > (Where would we be today if Microsoft had patented and was enforcing every one of the common controls and the basic web fonts.)

    Fortunately M$ weren't responsible for any of these.

    Most of the basic controls were in existence back before MicroSoft got into the "windows" game.

    The basic look at feel and the 3D effects came from HP (there was an agreement to ensure that Motif and Windows 3.1 looked and acted the same for users), a lot of the controls were being used at DEC too way back when.

    Of course Xerox who invented Windows, had the things like dialog boxes, the various styles of buttons, the different forms of menus etc...

    And all that dates back before the Apple Lisa.

    M$ are the new boys on the block.

  12. Hud Dunlap
    Megaphone

    Re: Blackboard patent( you haven't been following patent law)

    The new U.S. Patent law is first to file not first to create. It doesn't protect the inventor at all.

    Originally in order to patent a device you had to bring in a working model. Blackboard patents were not allowed. This is why Alexander Graham bell actually had to have a working phone before he could patent it. The theory was already there.

    Your post is inaccurate.

  13. Ru

    Re: Blackboard patent

    "Just because CMU is a university with lots of Government funding doesn't mean that they are not a vapor ware firm."

    Universities are generally about research, not development. If they've demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that a solution to a particular problem is viable, but not actually gone to the multi-million-dollar lengths of actually fabbing a proof-of-concept ASIC or whatever, does that mean that the research they've done on the problem is valueless?

    That's not to say that the patents they filed are worthwhile ones, of course... I've not looked at them. But to dismiss them because they didn't waste a load of money making a useless prototype purely as a pre-emptive bit of evidence seems a little unreasonable.

  14. Naughtyhorse

    Re: Blackboard patent( you haven't been following patent law)

    Interesting example to use. one of the more famous non-inventors of stuff. :-)

    I'll see your Bell and raise you an Edison.

    USPTO has been broken since day one.

  15. Mike Dimmick
    Headmaster

    Microsoft common controls patent

    Microsoft *did* patent the common controls introduced in 1995, and they're among the patents MS are successfully enforcing against Android device makers. Here's one, related to tab controls, cited in the case against Barnes & Noble's Nook reader: http://www.google.com/patents/US5889522

  16. JEDIDIAH
    Linux

    They're still troll-ish.

    No. They're just base and crass for other reasons.

    Universities are supposed to help improve the state of the art. They aren't supposed to be another form of bridge troll. They're supposed to be the counterpoint to companies that don't do anything without getting their proverbial palms greased.

    Academics like to claim to be above such things.

  17. a_been
    Facepalm

    Re: Blackboard patent

    Marvell don't make real devices either. There business is based on developing theoretical ways for microchip to do things then getting others to build the devices.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Blackboard patent( you haven't been following patent law)

    US patent law was changed to "first to create". So it does protec inventors.

  19. Chet Mannly

    "Such people think a Blu-ray disc is over-priced because they only cost £1 to produce (conveniently forgetting he film on it cost millions to make)."

    So am I one of those people when I ask myself "why does the ebook cost the same as a hardback (sometimes more!), when there's virtually zero transportation costs, printing, binding etc?"

    I don't expect it to cost nothing, but there is a MASSIVE difference between the costs for both, so the consumer is definitively being ripped off.

    As for this case, as they say "if you can't do something, then teach it", maybe we'll have to change that to "if you can't do something yourself, sue anyone who can"

  20. Chet Mannly

    Re: Blackboard patent

    "If they've demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that a solution to a particular problem is viable, but not actually gone to the multi-million-dollar lengths of actually fabbing a proof-of-concept ASIC or whatever, does that mean that the research they've done on the problem is valueless?"

    If the researcher isn't capable of building a proof of concept prototype chip themselves then they don't deserve to sue out of existence the people who can actually build something.

    But it seems that isn't how the broken US patent system works...

  21. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: They're still troll-ish.

    Universities are supposed to help improve the state of the art.

    For free? People moan about the cost of higher education, then they want to remove other funding sources.

    Academics like to claim to be above such things.

    Commentators like to make absurd, unjustified generalizations.

  22. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    So am I one of those people when I ask myself "why does the ebook cost the same as a hardback (sometimes more!), when there's virtually zero transportation costs, printing, binding etc?"

    It costs what the market will pay for it, and that's what it's worth.

    It's possible to argue that books satisfy a basic need (for entertainment, intellectual stimulation, information, etc), but in the overwhelming majority of cases it's very difficult to argue that a particular title satisfies a basic need.[1] And most ebooks are also available in paper, and both ebooks and books are sold at a very wide range of prices (across all titles), including many at a very low price point.

    So while the consumer may want a specific title, and that in ebook form, and find it is priced at a hefty amount over its marginal cost, that isn't grounds to argue that the consumer is in any way being cheated. The consumer has a choice: pay the premium for that title in that form, or purchase an alternative (or nothing at all). The premium represents the desirability of that specific title in that form.

    The same applies to CDs, DVDs, films on Blu-Ray, etc. Saying they're "too expensive" is a category error; what that really means is they are priced higher than the value you assign to them. Well, tough luck. The market will not always agree with your valuations.

    [1] The most prominent exception is probably in education, where students are required to read specific titles, attaching them to the basic need for education. Even then there are often alternatives in the form of other editions, used books, libraries, etc.

  23. Hyper72
    Thumb Up

    "It costs what the market will pay for it, and that's what it's worth."

    Exactly! Ebooks are no different from any other product in this regard. People pay $80 for jeans that are manufactured for a couple of bucks, the value of a product to the end user is not related to the cost of creating, marketing and distributing it.

  24. Roland6 Silver badge

    Re: Blackboard patent

    A patent without realisation is a patent of an idea and ideas aren't patentable ... I'm al ittle surprised that CMU managed to pass the acid test of providing sufficient evidence that they had a realisation of their patent at time of filing, but perhaps Marvell failed to demand CMU provide the evidence ...

  25. LateNightLarry
    Pint

    "So am I one of those people when I ask myself "why does the ebook cost the same as a hardback (sometimes more!), when there's virtually zero transportation costs, printing, binding etc? It costs what the market will pay for it, and that's what it's worth.

    And you've hit on the very reason I don't feel compelled to buy an ebook ... If I have to pay as much, or more, for a digital book, I'll just stick with the dead tree version. At least with a dead tree version, I can read while the airplane is taking off or landing without being told to shut down my paper device. And if I want to re-read it six months later, it will still be readable.

    It's Wine O'Clock somewhere around the globe...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do they really own the patents?

    If CMU is a gov't funded university then anything that it produces has been paid for by taxation and is therefore owned by the people and can and should be freely available to use.

  27. Ru
    WTF?

    Re: Blackboard patent

    If the researcher isn't capable of building a proof of concept prototype chip themselves then they don't deserve to sue out of existence the people who can actually build something.

    Uh, what?

    If we're going to go all insane troll logic on this matter, then perhaps I can point you at things like fabless semiconductor companies. You may have heard of ARM. ARM don't make chips. ARM don't even design chips. They design a core which can be integrated into someone else's chip.

    So does this mean that ARM's designs and patents are worthless because they cannot produce them? Should ARM be forced to spend additional millions on every single patent they file just to make a prototype that will never be used and would never be sold? Perhaps you think pure IP and design companies should turn into manufacturers, killing the entire business model that they're built around?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chet Mannly

    'So am I one of those people when I ask myself "why does the ebook cost the same as a hardback (sometimes more!), when there's virtually zero transportation costs, printing, binding etc?"'

    The difference is less than you might suppose. To an outsider, publishing is mostly about the obvious material things: paper, print, transportation. In fact, most of the costs of publishing a book are much less tangible: editing, copy editing, proof reading, technical review, etc. Those take longer and cost more than printing. Some people don't seem to notice whether a book has been TRd, edited, copy edited, or proof read - but most serious readers do notice, and they care very much.

    Moreover, ebooks (if well done) have definite advantages over paper books. Some people carry libraries of dozens or hundreds of books about in their coat pockets. They can search through all those books, and so on.

  29. NBCanuck
    Unhappy

    With eBooks, one it is produced there is only the cost of data traffic. No big inventories sitting in warehouses and in stores to keep the channel full, and none of the shipping costs to move them around. Yet the price is the same as an actual book. Oh...and with the book I own it. I can pass my library along to a family member or friend when I die. With an eBook you don't really own it. When you die there is nothing to pass along. You only get a lifetime lease.

  30. vagabondo

    Re: Blackboard patent -- @Ru

    Chip layout designers, like software writers are better served by copyright an trade secrets rather than patents. We (the public) would be better served by a reversion to the requirement of a product to be accompanied by a list of any patents that could be used to protect that product.

    The preferred place to publish an algorithm should be an academic article, not a patent application.

  31. David_H
    FAIL

    Ahem...

    "This is why Alexander Graham bell actually had to have a working phone before he could patent it."

    As made by Antonio Meucci who had already patent letter for it!

    So not a good example.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actual Value

    It's hard to believe that a single component of a product could be worth 92% of the company that produces that product... and many other products as well. Or even that a single component would be worth ~%30 of the company's value. One component of hundreds or thousands involved. All these suits are a bit extreme, from my simple point of view.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Actual Value

    I'm with you on this one. It can't be like Marvel did not put any RD or useful inventions/innovations of their own in those products.

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Re: Actual Value

    "It's hard to believe that a single component of a product could be worth 92% of the company that produces that product... and many other products as well. Or even that a single component would be worth ~%30 of the company's value"

    Firstly that would be the current market value (IE at their current stock price) while they've been selling the product for years.

  35. jai

    Re: Actual Value

    that's a good point. Marvell products are in everything, hard drives is likely a small percentage of where their income is generated.

    If the amount they've been told to pay is calculated by the amount of money they should have paid CMU over the years, then that suggests the cost of the license, had they sought it at the start, would have dramatically increased the cost of Marvell's hard drives, likely making them highly unpopular, so they never would have sold so many and so CMU wouldn't have received anywhere near as much money.

  36. vagabondo

    Re: Actual Value --@jai

    If the amount they've been told to pay is calculated by

    My understanding is that the amount was calculated by CMU's expert. Marvell claimed that the calculation methodology was unusual, but their objection/request for reconsideration was refused by the judge. The reasons given for refusal were legal-technical and I do not understand them.

  37. Naughtyhorse
    Trollface

    Re: Actual Value

    "It can't be like Marvel did not put any RD or useful inventions/innovations of their own in those products."

    Ah, but they did!

    the Marvel chips have round corners.

    (for some reason they are keeping schtum about it tho)

  38. vagabondo

    re: Re: Actual Value --@jai

    I may have got this wrong, but from this report:

    http://patentlaw.jmbm.com/2012/11/carnegie-mellon-university-v-m.html

    it appears that CMU were asking for 50cents per chip, but the Judge ramped the amount up. IThat just seems unbelievable, even by USA patent law norms.

    Groklaw please help!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: re: Actual Value --@jai

    @Charles 9

    erck your inability to read and answer questions like a grown up stuns me. Well actually it doesn't.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: re: Actual Value --@jai

    @Charles 9 erck your inability to read and answer questions like a grown up stuns me. Well actually it doesn't.

    were you being intentionally ironic by replying to the wrong thread with that comment?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The cynic in me says "What did you expect"?

    Trial in Pittsburgh.

    Jury from Pittsburgh.

    Plaintiff a major part of the Pittsburgh economy/ecosystem.

    Defendant.... not from Pittsburgh.

    Apple/Samsung all over again.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: The cynic in me says "What did you expect"?

    The other question is, did the foreman work for Seagate? ;)

  43. Dick
    Paris Hilton

    Hard to believe

    that any jury of non experts could make a valid determination about a case involving "The present invention is directed to a method of determining branch metric values for branches of a trellis for a Viterbi-like detector. The method includes the step of selecting a branch metric function for each of the branches at a certain time index. The method also includes the step of applying the selected function to a plurality of time variant signal samples to determine the metric values."

  44. mIRCat
    Trollface

    Be them mountain trolls? Nay! They be patent trolls.

  45. MacGyver
    Megaphone

    Did they steal the concept (idea) or the code (implementation). Stealing the exact code would be wrong and sue worthy, but "stealing" the idea that one could optimize the way the head retrieves data for the benefit of noise-reduction would be the equivalent of a company offering someone buying a car tire a choice between different tread patterns. If we don't allow for multiple implementations of similar designs, then how is technology going to advance? Seeing how easy it is to get vague patents these days, it will amount to a future of a few large companies strong-arming every potential start-up out of "protection money" to use their patented "rounded rectangle" design patent. Good thing start-ups have lots of money, oh wait.

  46. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Devil

    > "stealing" the idea

    Clearly you are unsure about how patents work. It's all about "stealing the idea". You get a monopoly on some arbitrarily chosen "subspace of ideas" (arbitrarily chosen because there is no objective distance measure of similarity measure in that space, it all comes down to random subjective judgement of lawyers, juries and judges) and you get to patrol it with the badges and guns of the state. If someone trespasses (according to the aforementioned arbitrary judgement call) without being aware that the area was zoned, well, tough luck.

    If you "steal the code", then copyright law comes into effect.

  47. vagabondo
    Meh

    re: "It's all about "stealing the idea"

    But in this case the idea the idea "that one could optimize the way the head retrieves data for the benefit of noise-reduction" had already been patented by Seagate. Marvell's defence against the two patent infringement claims (all the others having been summarily dismissed) seem to have been:

    1) that the patents were invalid as they failed to cite the Seagate inventions. Seagate had applied for relevant patents, but they had not been granted at the time of CMU's patent application, however CMU was aware of the Seagate work. The District Court appears to have decided that CMU had no duty to declare Seagate's work.

    2) that their method was different from that described by CMU, and that no one had yet succeeded in implementing the CMU methods in hardware.

    Hopfully this case will be reported and analysed on G?roklaw, so that we have a chance of understanding what actually happened an why.

  48. MacGyver
    Megaphone

    I must have the wrong idea then, because I can see lots of device that are similar but different, and the only difference between cars, TVs, computers, clothes, and other objects that surround us is the way the concept has been implemented. People are supposed to be able to "design around" existing patents, and the only way that is done is through process modification. The issue is that patents have been and are being awarded for things that are obvious and not novel, how is a "rounded rectangle" in any way novel? What backyard gate doesn't have a "slide-to-unlock" bolt securing it? This patent is for controlling the electronics to reduce noise, duh-doy! I recently saw an Apple patent for a design that Tesla came up with decades ago for induction energy transfer for cordless charging, how is that novel? Or why does Apple have a patent for a magnetically attached power-cord when I know that in the 70's virtually every Fondu pot had one following a rash of hot-cheese accidents? How can you patent the way a menu "bounces" after years of it being using in programming classes.

    The only way any patent makes sense is if it a mix of copyright, as it forces everyone to come up with a way to "do it better"

    It's supposed to go like this:

    Writers think up the future, inventors figure out a way to make it a reality, others figure out a way to make it better, repeat.

    Not, writer thinks up future, large multinational company patents idea thought up by the writer, other try to make it a reality, mega-corp sues the ones that do, only the mega-corps crappy implementation exists until the idea is no longer relevant.

    The system is broken and in need of serious reexamination and repair.

  49. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    End of a story then?

    Nicely applied tech, products and jobs go *phut* in an instant?

    CMU gets dosh, but what will it do for it? Pay Elsevier Publications? Buy a few Global Hawks for the Uni's robotics department? Free tuition fees forever?

  50. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: End of a story then?

    Oh, please. Even if Marvell end up paying, the amount will almost certainly be reduced on appeal.

    As for what CMU will do with the money: it will probably go into the general fund, and most of it end up in salaries, financial aid, physical plant improvements, and research. In STEM colleges at Research I universities, that's where the bulk of the budget is.

    I'm sure some idiot will complain about salary being the top budget item. Would it do any good to point out that large research universities employ a lot of people, that many of those people routinely turn down offers for jobs with higher salaries (particularly outside academia), that many are graduate students making less than a livable wage (and eking out a living with loans), and that many pay their own salaries through grants and other outside funding sources? No, I didn't think it would.

    [1]I haven't found a report on CMU's budget, but Michigan State is a roughly comparable institution for these purposes, and its budget report is at http://www.budget.msu.edu/documents/2011-12Budgets.pdf.

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