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. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

    Like ARM in the UK it's whole business is built on Intellectual Property.

    So it should be aware of "prior art" in this area.

    So the question is how close to the CMU patent is the Marvell stuff?

    They would not be the first large company to say "Stuff it, you'll run out of money/interest/time before this gets to court, we're having your lunch (and breakfast and dinner)" Kodak Vs Polaroid comes to mind. I'm sure some people could quote Microsoft infringements ad nauseum (for or against them. You decide).

    Given the locality of the court and the university I'm surprised Marvell did not try for a change of venue.

    Need to know more before it's clear if this is fair or not.

    1. vagabondo

      Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

      So it should be aware of "prior art" in this area

      It was -- Marvell argued that Seagate's patents trumped CMU's.

      I'm surprised Marvell did not try for a change of venue

      It did -- Pittsburgh rejected the attempt to move to North California (Marvell's home).

      Need to know more before ...

      Commenting?

      --- Why does el Reg insert extra linefeeds?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

        I suppose Marvell's home will be more likely to be something on the Asian Landmass in the future.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

        "It was -- Marvell argued that Seagate's patents trumped CMU's."

        Thing was, at the time CMU files, Seagate's stuff was only Patent PENDING. Since the patent itself had not been granted, it could be argued that CMU could not have been knowledgeable of the Seagate patents since they were not officially in the USPTO files at the time.

        1. vagabondo

          Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company. -- @charles 9

          This case has been extensively reported -- just not here. Apparently the CMU and Seagate "inventors" had been in communication, and were well aware of the details of each others work.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

        It was -- Marvell argued that Seagate's patents trumped CMU's.

        It did -- Pittsburgh rejected the attempt to move to North California (Marvell's home).

        Thanks for the information. Interesting. So does that not suggest they are infringing Seagate's patent instead or in addition to the CMU one?

        "Need to know more before ...

        Commenting?"

        Don't be silly. I'm pretty sure people comment here who've just read the headlines.

        1. vagabondo

          re: Re: 1 moment. Marvell is *fabless* semiconductor company.

          does that not suggest they are infringing Seagate's ...

          Unlikely as Seagate are one of Marvell's major customers.

          http://www.seagate.com/gb/en/search/?keyword=marvell

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  3. Mage Silver badge
    Flame

    This is Nuts.

    Universities don't exist to benefit Universities or Shareholders, but Humanity , The Nation and Business development. So even if this is valid (the patent infringement) the penalty is crazy. There should be MANDATORY "FRAND" licences on anything University developed.

    Secondly, yet again it's unlikely that the patent is really valid or that Marvell really violated it. But this is not a new problem. It dates back to 1900s when Lodge and Marconi got patents for "Radio" techniques already in mathematics by Maxwell, Hertz and Braun.

    Marconi and later RCA was like Apple. Patent everything, fight everyone. Marconi came up with some good possibly patentable ideas about aerials. Almost everything else should have been thrown out by Patent Office. At least then a Patent only lasted 14 years. Also The WORLD had to create an International Treaty to break the power Britain gave Marconi, as he only leased the Equipment and Operators to ships and in classic walled garden fashion Marconi operators forbidden to communicate with Ships or Shore not using Licensed Marconi Equipment.

    So the "system" is broken since late Victorian era when US and UK entrepreneurs (i.e. Edison and Moving Pictures too) simply "gamed" the Patent System to prevent valid competition, not get temporary exclusivity on real inventions. RCA prevented anyone using the Superhet without their licence. Armstrong is actually credited with "inventing" it in 1918, but in reality the idea was obvious to many and of no interest till valves (tubes) cheaper as it needed an Oscillator, Mixer and Amplifier with 7 coils to replace one regenerative amplifier and 2 coils.

    Most technology patents in the last 120 years are fake. Written to obfuscate and hide the lack of novelty, or obviousness or fact that it's mathematically described many years earlier.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: This is Nuts.

      Universities don't exist to benefit Universities or Shareholders, but Humanity , The Nation and Business development.

      Then when Humanity, The Nation[1], and Business decide to fund the universities, they can stop seeking patents for the results of their research.

      Since you clearly live in a cave, you may be interested to know that state support for universities (particularly including the "public" ones that are supposed to be funded by the state) in the US has dropped precipitously over the past several years. Michigan State's revenue from the state was cut by $12M last year. That kind of money adds up. Federal research money is not a very deep pool when it's spread across all the research universities in the country. The mechanism for businesses to pay for university research is ... wait for it ... patents.[2]

      So in fact "humanity", primarily in the form of student loans, pays much - too much - of the costs of academia. "Technology transfer" - licensing the intellectual property created by researchers - is a way to divert some of that cost to businesses, who in return get increased profits due to novel or improved products, greater efficiencies, etc.

      What's "nuts" is the inability of many supposedly-educated people to understand simple economics.

      [1] Do you mean the nation-state under whose political authority the university resides, or the left-wing newspaper? Just curious.

      [2] OK, so that's clearly a gross oversimplification for rhetorical effect. The primary way business helps fund education is by hiring graduates, paying back their investment in tuition. Business also does fund some research directly (though there's a long, uncomfortable history of business tainting such research), and individuals enriched by their business ventures contribute to university endowments, the returns from which are a major source of funding. And of course many businesses pay significant taxes in one way or another, a bit of which ends up in education.

  4. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Happy

    Intriguing

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of this - I'm intrigued that a jury was able to sort out the pros and cons of the case in deciding between the CMU patent and the Marvel implementation of "similar" ideas. It would seem to me that this is the real issue here?

    However the coverage in el Reg of the science behind this is so banal as to make and substantive discussion simply a commentard free for all. Come on, we all know that the patent system is worse than broken - what's there to discuss here if you're not going to discuss the science behind the patent?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But it won't set any record...

    ...because it will be over-turned on appeal - as it should be.

    As is typical in the U.S. we have technically illiterate judges and juries making inappropriate technical decisions when they are clueless and don't understand the technology. Neither of the patents that are alleged to have been infringed actually cover the technology used by Marvel in their chips so you know this decision will be over-turned on appeal - which is a good thing as we don't need to punish PC companies who develop and patent their own technology.

  6. CheesyTheClown Silver badge
    WTF?

    Crap article

    As an algorithm specialist and someone who for years has been designing RAID algorithms and have designed software based wear leveling algorithms for portable devices, when I come across an article about a patent verdict like this, I like to know what it is that is being talked about.

    What patents were violated? The money is a big number and will be appealed for 10 years and Marvell will file bankruptcy and sell its assets to a new company run by the same people before paying. So frankly, it's meaningless other than to say "Wow, big number!".

    What people (and probably) the courts don't understand is that flash controller algorithms are typically quite trivial. 99.9% of the algorithms can be found in Donald Knuth's TAOCP and are just a mixture of what is already known. The implementation is whatis more interesting and frankly, I doubt there is anything past basic triviality involved in that. That being said, developing chips is rocket science not because of the algorithms, but more because of the art and time involved in designing and simulating before paying a ton of money to prototype. It's not like software development where if you make an oopsie, you just fix it and recompile. In a chip, you have to design not only the initial logic, but a means to implement patches as well. It's HARD!

    I would love to review the patent in question and disect it to see if there was anything Marvell implemented which could be considered more than just gluing together a pile of 40 year old algorithms.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Stop

      Re: Crap article

      "As an algorithm specialist and someone who for years has been designing RAID algorithms and have designed software based wear leveling algorithms for portable devices, when I come across an article about a patent verdict like this, I like to know what it is that is being talked about."

      Agreed. Is this really a case of big bad corporate raider sticking it to the academics or is the university trading on it's reputation to pull a shake down? Impossible to say from this article.

      " The money is a big number and will be appealed for 10 years and Marvell will file bankruptcy and sell its assets to a new company run by the same people before paying. "

      Been there. Done that. Depends on wheather the management decide to use it as a chance to shaft the staff while they are at it.

      "What people (and probably) the courts don't understand is that flash controller algorithms are typically quite trivial. 99.9% of the algorithms can be found in Donald Knuth's TAOCP and are just a mixture of what is already known."

      So how can they even be patented?

      "I would love to review the patent in question and disect it to see if there was anything Marvell implemented which could be considered more than just gluing together a pile of 40 year old algorithms."

      Me too.

      I'm starting to lean toward the Marvell position on this.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      Re: Crap article

      Hopefully it is not an algorithm. I strongly feel that an algorithm is not patentable due to the nature of it being math alone. If you dedicate your whole life to mathematics, and you develop something truly unique, then you have not accomplished anything more than what the math has allowed you to. No matter how you feel about it, it is the concept of math that has allowed you to create it. For example, if your math based patent uses addition, who you going to created for addition? What about logarithm, who you going to created? It just spins out of control until you really haven't patented anything. Just because someone spends their entire life gardening, doesn't mean they can patent a unique way to water plants. Well they could if they created a physical device, but in pure math, what is physical?

      I understand in the real world it doesn't always work like this. I also understand that even within the respective circle of mathematics it doesn't work like this (look at who claimed Calculus), but hopefully people will one day stop patenting what doesn't belong to any 1 person.

      Basically, math based patents are bad, physical based patents are good. The only thing that I can think of that blurs the lines are chemical patents.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Crap article

      I would love to review the patent in question

      OK, so review it - or rather them, since there are two patents in question:

      http://www.google.com/patents/US6201839 (claim 4 was found to be infringed)

      http://www.google.com/patents/US6438180 (claim 2 found to be infringed)

      Gosh, that was hard. Took less time than writing a four-paragraph rant.

      Or by "I would love to review" did you mean "I'd love to claim that I'd review this, as long as it didn't require any effort"?

    4. Vic

      Re: Crap article

      > That being said, developing chips is rocket science

      No, not really.

      > It's not like software development where if you make an oopsie, you just fix it and recompile

      It is - it's exactly like that.

      Most chips are fully synthesised these days. You write your code in exactly the same way as if you're writing software, then hit the button to do the synthesis. Once that's built, you run it through the design rules checker and the simulation tool.

      There are even tools to run multiple synthesis/simulation runs in parallel with different seeds, so that you have a bunch of possible layouts from which to pick the best.

      Discolsure: I'm currently running a large GridEngine cluster to do exactly this as part of $dayjob...

      > In a chip, you have to design not only the initial logic, but a means to implement patches as well.

      We use tools like diff and patch. They do the job.

      > It's HARD!

      Maybe. But it's no harder that software development of the same level ofcomplexity.

      Vic.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one welcome our Chinese overlords

    US politicians will not reform patent law until some sort of cataclysmic external even forces them to do so. Like, say, a Chinese firm with deep pockets buying or filing some really fundamental patents and then bringing a major US corporation to its knees in court and resulting in tangible, visible effects. Say, Haier or Huawei crushing Apple in court leading to shelves being cleared of ipads and Apple stores shutting down.

    Good patents are a good thing. Bad patents kill jobs and stifle innovation. Most software patents are terrible.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Let me find my patent.

    How do you exactly discover some entity is using your patent? Do you intentionally have a department set out in reverse engineering of anything that could contain your patent, or does it just fall in on your lap? If you had a dedicated department, you could wind up pumping out lawsuits all the way back to the person who invented the wheel.

    I'm just rolling here admittedly, but if there was no patents, then wouldn't the winner be chosen by who makes the best of whatever information is out there? Of course, it doesn't help the little guys, but the little guys get stomped on. I wonder what the statistics would be for awarding damages for patent infringements to the little guy vs. the big corp. I'm currently feeling like only big corps. can weild them with their big lawyers. Goliath to David, run!

  9. etabeta
    FAIL

    Broken patent system

    This absurd award for a trivial algorithm is in the same category as the Apple / Samsung controversy. Over $ 1 billion?? Give me a break! The maximum award for a crappy patent like this should have been at the very most - if found guilty - 1% of revenues generated by the sale of that particular chip. This time it looks like the entire court was on crack!

  10. NomNomNom

    $1.17 BILLION??? WTF!!! this means they probably won't have enough money to make another Spider Man movie so I have to ask if DC have a hand in this...

  11. Boris S.

    Never happen

    Marvell has already released a statement detailing that the patent infringement claims are meritless and they are likely to win on appeal. It appears that their statements are legitimate. For those who don't know, some patent holders try to extort companies with deep pockets. Anyone can file a lawsuit but it doesn't mean it will prevail when reviewed by technically competent legal minds vs. lower clueless juries.

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