back to article Apple may face $900m bill after A7 CPU in iPhones, iPads ripped off university's patent

Apple's A7 processors in iPhones and iPads infringe a patent held by the University of Wisconsin, a court has ruled. A jury, sitting in a US district court in Madison, Wisconsin, found Apple guilty of patent infringement late yesterday afternoon. While the damages in the case have yet to be determined, Judge William Conley …

  1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Apple thieves - what a surprise

    How many times have they ripped others work off and tried to pass it as their own ?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

      Creating verilog code is expensive. Proving that some verilog does what you intended is really expensive. I agree that Apple should pay for all the verilog code they stole from the patent. A quick look at the patent shows zero lines of verilog and zero evidence the the verilog does what the patent describes.

      There is some theory that one among the thousands of people who independently came up with the idea should be able get a monopoly on its implementation. If something is so obvious that no-one writes it in a technical journal, it is proof (to a patent lawyer) that the idea is unique and valuable. This dates back to the Dewar bottle.

      A Dewar bottle is a delicate piece of lab equipment that can hold hot or cold liquids and keep their temperature roughly constant. A judge upheld the patent on a thermos flask (a Dewar flask robust enough to survive getting dropped) because the idea of making a Dewar flask robust would not have occurred to anyone but the patent holder. The judge pointed at a picture of a Dewar flask to show how different it was from a thermos. In the background of the picture you can see the thermos made by the lab-tech who took it on pic-nics to the delight and amazement of his family. The lab-tech, James Dewar and hundreds of other lab-tech and physicists knew that the thermos was to obvious to patent. The key quality that is required is the willful ignorance of a patent lawyer.

      On another day, I would happily slag Apple for suing others who build things that Apple copied, but not for this.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

        Well, small change for Apple, great funding for education in Milwaukee.

        Heeeeyyyyyyyyyyy!

        (if only I could add two icons)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

          I'm inclined to agree that this is not something which should have been granted a patent. Sadly Apple's previous behavior makes me a lot less sympathetic... those who live by the sword and all that.

      2. Dr. Mouse

        Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

        There is some theory that one among the thousands of people who independently came up with the idea should be able get a monopoly on its implementation. If something is so obvious that no-one writes it in a technical journal, it is proof (to a patent lawyer) that the idea is unique and valuable.

        Many things seem obvious after the fact. In 1996, nobody had thought of it.

        I think you may misunderstand the way engineering works. It is normally small steps, but the fact that it is a small step does not mean it is obvious.

        Your example of the Thermos flask actually proves my point. If it was so obvious, why had nobody done it before? Just because you can look at it now and say, "Oh, that's easy, just take this piece of equipment, add this to it, and you've got something much more useful outside the lab" does not mean it should not be patentable. As long as there wasn't another lab tech out there who independently did the same before him, it's a perfectly valid patent.

        Also, the theory is not that one among those who independently has an idea gets a monopoly. It is that the first person to come up with the idea gets a monopoly in exchange for publishing his idea.

        EDIT: Forgot to add, as the idea was patented, it was also published. It probably can't be proven, but how do we know that an Apple engineer had not read the patent, or about it in some tech publication, or heard about it in discussions at University?

        1. Andy 73

          Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

          I'm sure there should be some distinction between innovation and application. In the example, the Dewar flask is the innovation, but deciding to keep coffee in it is a particular application. If I chose to deliver ice-cream in it, have I innovated?

          Of course the subtleties of patent law make such trivial examples somewhat moot, but I'd argue the goal of patents should be the minimum legal structure possible to support investment in innovation - and no more. We can all agree that innovation is good, but artificial monopolies are bad.

          1. Ragarath

            Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

            But it is not just an application. They changed it to make it durable as mentioned and because of this changed the original patent in a small step as mentioned above.

            1. Andy 73

              Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

              I wasn't suggesting the Apple case leant one way or the other, merely commenting on the idea of 'obviousness' and how that related to patentability.

      3. Naselus

        Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

        "There is some theory that one among the thousands of people who independently came up with the idea should be able get a monopoly on its implementation. "

        Unlike the clear-cut, once-in-a-lifetime idea of making the corners round.

    2. Arctic fox
      Flame

      Re: Apple thieves - what a surprise

      Apple are a classic example of BigCorp. Are we actually surprised that they are without shame? Any company in the Western World would do what they are doing. The fact they they are fucking hypocrites after have sued Samsung largely for "look and feel" type patent breaches is neither here nor there. The BigBoys operate on what they can get away with. The only question they ask their legal departments is "can anyone what successfully sue/prosecute us". They are, none of them, interested in ethical conduct. The system stinks.

  2. Bota

    How do like...

    Them....Apples..

    </mockery>

  3. W Donelson

    A Wisconsin court rules for a Wisconsin University?

    They could be right, but it stinks like nepotism to me.

    If an out-of-court upholds the judgement, then Apple certainly should pay.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: A Wisconsin court rules for a Wisconsin University?

      So the university sued Apple in Wisconsin since the Uni is located in Wisconsin. The patent troll route would have been to choose East Texas for the lawsuit venue.

      Serving the papers in Hawaii would have probably delighted the Uni lawyers but would have been quite an expensive endeavour.

    2. O RLY

      Re: A Wisconsin court rules for a Wisconsin University?

      A FEDERAL court ruled for a Wisconsin University.

      1. g e

        By that standard, in other legal actions...

        "An American court ruling for an American company"

        quel surprise

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. O RLY

          Re: By that standard, in other legal actions...

          "An American court ruling for an American company"

          quel surprise

          Since both the plaintiff and defendant were American companies, the real trick would have been for the American court to rule for a non-participating Congolese firm. Now THAT would have been 'quel surprise'.

  4. davefb

    Why not ARM?

    Why apple and not arm ? Or have they really made large changes to the cpu ? Though in other articles it mentions apple quoted the patent in one of their patent so they must have realised something like this might happen ?

    The initial intel case is pretty weird, intel appear to have paid for work and had the professors work with them only to find out they didn't get any patents ?

    1. John 104

      Re: Why not ARM?

      Perhaps because of being properly licensed?

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Why not ARM?

      I dont know, it's not clear. However, from the linked document:

      "9. The Court has personal jurisdiction over Apple pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 801.05(1)

      because Apple is engaged in substantial and not isolated activities in this state and judicial

      district, including maintaining a retail store and employees here. "

      That doesnt apply to ARM

      "16. Since the issuance of the ’752 patent, Apple has filed one or more patent

      applications that cite the ’752 patent as relevant prior art. "

      I don't know if ARM has cited patent '752

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not ARM?

      The patent is for a specific feature that optimizes load/store behavior that was not included in ARM's licensed 32 bit designs. I don't know for sure it isn't included in their 64 bit designs like the A53/A57/A72, but I doubt it. Since Apple doesn't use those but designs its own cores, it could be liable for something that doesn't affect those using ARM designs. It could affect Qualcomm or Samsung's own designs though.

      They already settled with Intel for an unspecified amount, since Core i CPUs use this optimization as well.

    4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Why not ARM?

      Because Apple designed the A7 from scratch using its own implementation, which stepped on the uni's toes. The chip is ARMv8 compatible (and Apple licensed the 64-bit instruction set) but that doesn't mean ARM designed the thing.

      And thus, it's not ARM's problem.

      C.

    5. razorfishsl

      Re: Why not ARM?

      Why not read the article rather than looking at the pictures and the heading.....

    6. DustyP

      Re: Why not ARM?

      In about 1991, Apple invested $2.5 million for a 42% interest in ARM Ltd. This was before Olivetti bought ARM from Acorn. I don't know what the current position is, but this could be an expanation.

  5. Richard Boyce

    ARM?

    AFAIK, Apple's A7 is based on ARM processors. To what extent does this decision affect other users of ARM processors? How do later Apple processors avoid infringement?

    I guess I'll have to read about this decision more widely. Hopefully, the article will be updated later to better cover the implications.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ARM?

      See my reply above. This is over a specific implementation feature so other users of ARM are only affected if the specific implementation uses the same optimization. Apple may have the only ARM CPUs using this. They can only avoid infringement by not using this optimization.

      The patent is actually fairly simple, to put it in a more real-world example it would be like if I told a cook "assume all men order their burgers with bacon, and all women order their burgers without, so make them that way when you see them walk in to save time - but if you see a man order one without or a woman order one with, keep track of that person so you don't make the wrong burger if they come back and waste time having to remake it". It may not be rounded corners, but it isn't exactly some huge innovation worthy of $862 million. But then few things granted a patent really are much of an innovation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ARM?

        >They can only avoid infringement by not using this optimization.

        ...until next year. That particular landmine will self-destruct in 2016.

    2. aking

      Re: ARM?

      The ARMv8 CPUs in the A7 and later SoCs were designed by Apple not ARM; Apple is an ARM architecture licensee and does not use ARM's CPU designs (AFAIK).

    3. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: ARM?

      Oops - meant to include a note about ARM: Apple looked at ARM's 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set and designed a chip from scratch compatible with it, then later licensed the instruction set.

      None of this is ARM's problem: it was Apple's custom system-on-chip design that infringed the uni's patent.

      I've slung a sentence or two about this on the end of the article.

      C.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ARM?

        Thanks for clearing that up.

        Though, the facts as you state them make a mockery of the incessant fandroid blather here about Apple not designing chips and not having any chip design skills. Your suggestion is that aside from the instruction set, there is not much ARM in there at all?

        1. SuccessCase

          Re: ARM?

          Apple are now in fact one of the largest employers of chip designers in the world. Larger than all save Intel. Their ARM core design is Industry leading and is now providing them with a key advantage over the competition. They have been tailoring their chip design to perfectly suit iOS mobile usage.

          "they have effectively surpassed the performance of Intel. This has been well documented."

          http://stevecheney.com/on-apples-incredible-platform-advantage/

          And now they are moving on to designing their own wireless chipsets.

  6. AlanS
    Paris Hilton

    DEC's Alpha CPUs were doing similar things in '92 - prior art?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DEC. IIRC the Alpha had a lot of patented stuff and INTEL settled out of court to make the issue go away. The total was 3/4 Billion if memory serves where INTEL bought a DEC FAB as part of the settlement.

      That said, it seems most likely that ARM has implemented the OoO capability, and if they are licensed for this patent, then Apple will be covered under the exhaustion principle. It all seems a little strange.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This is not a patent on OoO execution, though it is used to further optimize things in OoO CPUs. Besides, Alpha was IN ORDER in the first two generations, it wasn't until the 21264 that they did the first OoO implementation.

  7. John 104

    Oh the irony

    Apple had countered that the patent was invalid and had suggested WARF was a patent troll.

    Seems to me that this will likely hold up in an outside WI court. If they had a previous private settlement that was paid out it looks pretty cut and dried. Just more Apple getting bent because they got caught stealing and are getting taken to task on it. Chumps.

    Besides the mindless dronage of the typical iWhatever user, it is this type of arrogant attitude that Apple does that has prevented me from ever buying their products. Remember antennagate? "Not our fault. You are holding it wrong." I take it back, not chumps. Ass holes is more like it.

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Oh the irony

      "Apple had countered that the patent was invalid and had suggested WARF was a patent troll."

      Pot. Kettle. Same old story.

    2. Adam 1

      Re: Oh the irony

      I'm on Apple's side here. I mean, if anyone would recognise a patent troll ...

      1. Dr. Mouse

        Re: Oh the irony

        Universities often hold many patents. They do not often build products themselves from them. So by this narrow definition, you may see some relevance in calling them a patent troll.

        However, Universities will normally license out those patents, even offering help in their implementation (for a fee). They will advertise them, not horde them looking for a payout later, and (AFAIK, I have never had to negotiate with them) their fees are generally much more reasonable. They do not just buy up patents from other people, but develop them in house.

        In addition, the universities use the money from licensing to support their core businesses of teaching and R&D. The money is basically poured back in to developing ideas and minds.

        Universities are (generally) not patent trolls. They are, in this area, R&D facilities pushing forward human knowledge.

        1. g e

          Re: Oh the irony

          But at least they INVENTED the process themselves, instead of buying someone else's works to use as a money stick to beat other real innovators with

        2. razorfishsl

          Re: Oh the irony

          That is bollox.....

          when I signed up to do a course at Uni.... they requested I sign a paper saying anything I developed belong to them, including any research I might perform.

          The fact that I paid them to enter Uni. did not seem to enter into it.

          I told them they could go screw themselves.

          1. Dr. Mouse

            Re: Oh the irony

            they requested I sign a paper saying anything I developed belong to them, including any research I might perform.

            This is fairly standard. At a uni, they are providing a lot of facilities for you. When I went, they allowed use for your own projects too.

            If you have a good idea, it is often possible for you to talk to them and negotiate an exception, although they may expect something in return. You are paying them to teach you, not to help you found a new company, provide R&D equipment and resources etc.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    The uni's boffins invented a table-like structure for the processor to keep track of data dependencies...

    "invented" ?

    Used a table to keep track...

    Apple had countered that the patent was invalid and had suggested WARF was a patent troll.

    Takes one...

    ...although I'm genuinely inclined to think they're right on this occasion. Should be too, considering they're one of the world's foremost authorities on patent trolling.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Really? I didn't think any non-practicing entities were in on this case?

      (Apple most definitely is not non-practicing in this case.)

  9. FozzyBear
    Trollface

    Apple calling someone else a Patent Troll.

    My brain went into vapour lock over the level of irony of that statement

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Hey, don't insult Apple!

    They invented the smartphone! They deserve respect for that!!!

    .

    .

    .

    ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      Re: Hey, don't insult Apple!

      Wrong icon AC

      1. Mephistro
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Hey, don't insult Apple!

        "Wrong icon AC"

        ROFLMAO

  11. Your alien overlord - fear me

    I think you'll all have to pay royalties to Apple because they invented the 'patent troll'. And using the phrase 'patent troll' will cost you, each and every time you read the phrase 'patent troll'.

    And just be careful claiming anyone, apart from Apple, are 'patent trolls', cos that'll cost extra.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge
    Trollface

    Legal fees

    Any truth that Samsung helped pay the Uni's legal costs?

  13. jimbo60

    A premier university is now a troll?

    UW-Madison has long had one of the premier computer science departments in the US, right up there with some of the more well known names like MIT and several of the top California universities. I'd hardly call that a patent troll! I'd also expect them to have a considerable patent portfolio.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is my problem, right there..

    The patent system was supposed to encourage innovation, not to stop it dead. From all I have seen so far, the patent system seems to be more geared up to let people patent the obvious and then enrich lawyers fighting it out and on the odd occasion getting said patent invalidated. Meanwhile, the patent office has had its pound of flesh (for NOT doing its job), and the lawyers on either side had your limbs in the process.

    Can you sue the patent office? It seems that the problem starts there, really.

  15. Jason Hindle

    Oh, it's a patent

    And it looks valid, and I can't think of any prior art*. It might just be a valid claim, and proper use of the patent system...

    * Although speculative execution has been around since the 80s*, there's still scope for innovation.

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: Oh, it's a patent

      "* Although speculative execution has been around since the 80s*, there's still scope for innovation."

      IBM's 7030 (aka STRETCH) supported speculative execution in the early 60s... A lot of these techniques are much older than you would expect. ;)

  16. Chris Evans

    How did they know?

    Whilst it seems that Apple are not denying they use this particular technique, how on earth can anyone tell if is being used?

    Without access to the design I'd-have thought it impossible to confirm.

  17. dador

    The obviousness of what was patented can also go towards reducing the damage award. The idea was sufficiently obvious that the patent shouldn't be worth anywhere near $900 million.

    Much of the reasoning behind the decision can be gleaned from the article's observation that "A jury, sitting in a US district court in Madison, Wisconsin, found Apple guilty ..."

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      "The idea was sufficiently obvious that ..."

      Was it? I haven't read the patent in detail, but Intel sold *lots* of OoO chips before the patent was published and had both the incentive and the resources to make them as good as they could. However, *Intel* apparently settled out of court in a similar case a few years back. Perhaps this patent is for something clever. (Let's face it, cramming a worthwhile algorithm into a few transistors with next to no latency in decision making is going to involve *some* cleverness.)

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