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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  • 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
  • npz - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    I certainly realize that but I'm saying it shouldn't be that way, and now with more players, and more competing standards it doesn't have to be. Web standards don't require any patent licensing as proprietary codecs are only made optional and then there are competing bodies providing royalty free open source alternatives to MPEG-LA. Be thankful that things with pure FOSS origins don't require patent licensing either. Reply
  • ET - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    I really don't understand what you're saying. If you're against patents in general, then fine. But if you're against publishing solutions and patenting them -- what's the problem with that? That's what patents are supposed to be. At least academic institutions are much clearer, actually explaining the patents in articles, so people can use them, instead of having to try to decipher a patent, which is deliberately made more obtuse. Reply
  • sleepeeg3 - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    Intellectual property does not and should not require a working model.

    Patent law is designed to reward the inventor for coming up with an original idea. Your are patenting intellectual property - not physical property.

    An inventor may not have the financial means to create a POC. If there is no incentive to come up with new ideas, this idea may have never existed. We would be left waiting for the corporations or individuals with the financial capital to A. come up with the idea and B. create a working model. That would slow down progress.

    I do agree with you that your order would probably create less conflict and lawsuits, however patent law functions the way it does to ensure that inventors are rewarded for their efforts.
  • sleepeeg3 - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    Also, with the recent change in patent law to "first to file," some of what you proposed is going to be alot more likely. Inventors will be encouraged to immediately file a patent, following a new idea. Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, February 3, 2020 - link

    "all too common among academic institutions"
    Citations needed please.

    Personally, this is the first time I've heard of an academic institution doing something that looks like patent trolling. That's primarily a private sector game.
  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    Patent law in the US doesn't make sense.

    How can they sue the end-user of a product (Apple), when the manufacturer of said product (Broadcom) is following a published standard (802.11n / 802.11ac)? Shouldn't they only be able to sue the people behind the standard, as it's the standard that is infringing the patent? And isn't there something about standards-essential patents being required to offer FRAND licensing fees to everyone?
  • nevcairiel - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    Practically all tech is patented to some degree, which means that standards are based on patents, and if you want to implement them, you have to pay for that. The article does not mention what conditions were offered, but it does say that Apple and Broadcom refused to pay at all because they do not recognize the validity of the patent - no matter if they were offered FRAND terms or not. Reply
  • JHBoricua - Friday, January 31, 2020 - link

    Not only that, but apparently the expert witness Broadcom and Apple used in the trial was not only had to correct his testimony but also struggle to explain the mistakes, weakening Broadcom's defense.

    Also from theRegister site:

    "The case itself was notable for the peculiar deposition of a key figure: Broadcom engineer Alvin Lin, who was chief architect of most of the technology in dispute. Lin didn't testify, a move that led Caltech to accuse Broadcom of "hiding him away," which the chip designer denied.

    The deposition, shown to the jury, revealed Lin seemed to be confused when asked if he understood where he was, and then where he got his master's degree from. I don't understand the question, he told baffled questioners. When he was then asked if he knew what a low-density parity check was – i.e. the tech he has written source code for and which is included in Broadcom's chipsets – he said he didn't."
  • Santoval - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    If this guy is so .. eloquent in depositions it is no wonder Broadcom hid him away. Who knows how much worse he would have made their case if he testified in trial.. Reply

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