back to article Intel told by jury to pay $2.18bn to VLSI for ripping off two semiconductor patents

Intel was told on Tuesday to cough up $2.18bn in damages after losing a patent-infringement court battle against VLSI Technology, a Silicon Valley veteran rejuvenated by an intellectual property fight. The jury in the case, unfolding in a US federal court in Waco, Texas, decided [PDF] Intel ripped off two patents that belonged …

  1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

    Hard to feel much sympathy

    Intel had a track record through the 90s of pursuing completely meritless lawsuits against competitors in the knowledge that money spent on the defence couldn't be used on R&D or marketing - remember in the US each party generally pays their own costs. I recall one in particular about the colour of heatsinks thrown out when it was pointed out black is chosen on the basis of physics not branding. They may have continued since then but can't say I've heard of it. It seems Intel are trying to portray the situation as a patent troll but the howls of anguish ring hollow.

    However in this case even that assertion doesn't ring true. Forget past histories or VLSI's current status - NXP are a practicing entity. Putting their patent portfolio in a separate shell doesn't strike me as a completely artificial construction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: completely artificial construction

      It is just that and one totally designed to limit the liability of NXP should they lose big time in their patent trolling. It is just so easy to sell on the patents that remain to another [cough][cough] shell company and carry on the good work.

      I see that the verdict comes from Waco in Texas. That state is well known for patent troll verdicts and given the GOP rule the roost everywhere, there is little sign that it will change any time soon.

      After all, their Governor has just declared that COVID-19 is a thing of the past and everything can go back to normal.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The less government the better, right?

        June 3rd he declared everything peachy, at 30 deaths per day, and removed restrictions. 6 weeks later it briefly hit 500-600 deaths per day. Currently it is 200+ deaths per day. This is perfectly 'normal' for a GOP governor.

      2. Grikath

        Re: completely artificial construction

        Dunno about the "artificial construction"...

        VLSI is simply the "legal arm" of NXP, which is the chip-fabbing part of the Philips blob. It makes sense in a way to incorporate the patent-wrangling part, given that it's a specialism in and of itself nowadays, and there's a measure of flexibility needed there that you just can't get as part of the main corporate/production body.

        Especially when you have to play legal ball in the US, which is ..shall we say.. quite typical when it comes to stakes involving the unholy mess of patents and payouts. Choosing Waco is part of that. It's not as if worthies as Apple and Intel and... don't shop for "friendly" court districts or anything..

        This isn't some shady ambulance chaser with some stupidly-obvious US patents trying to wring some cash out of a victim. This is ultimately a slugfight between Philips and Chipzilla involving real patents used in real tech.

        And it'll drag on a bit, I reckon.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Paul Smith

    One point three billion

    I thought there was something that meant you couldn't patent the patently obvious. If I want to use something that uses variable voltage, then I need access to the minimum voltage I can use. a) How is this patentable, and b) how is it worth one point three billion dollars?

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: One point three billion

      Are you using NVRAM to store and handle the voltage, switching between power sources as and when required? (Thats how I read it).

    2. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: One point three billion

      In the USA, patent law is insane. You can literally patent ideas, no need to show your work and no need for things to actually work. You can even patent things that are already in use as long as they have not been in use for a long time.

  3. DS999 Silver badge

    Don't know about the others, but

    "keeping track of the minimum amount of voltage necessary to drive memory" sounds about as obvious as it gets.

    1. rajivdx

      Re: Don't know about the others, but

      That's the thing about patents - it sounds obvious once someone else has done it. That's why you need to patent it.

      How about the IBM cursor? Very obvious now isn't it? Wasn't so back in those days till IBM did it.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Don't know about the others, but

        I was asked to fill out a survey recently about invention and patentable intellecutal property. The designers of the survey were asking about any inventions I'd made, whether they were patented and so on, but as the survey progressed it was clear that their idea of invention was 'the better mousetrap' sort, a kind of standalone invention that really doesn't map at all well to how invention occurs in a real engineering environment.

        The fact is that altering the clock speed and/or the drive voltage to a circuit to optimize its power use has been a feature of semiconductor design for many years. Most microcontrollers have sophisticated power management functions designed to conserve power -- often battery power -- when the processor isn't doing anything useful. As far as I can see with these patents the only distinguishing feature is that the instructions to tell the circuit what speed to go to (or what rail to select) aren't embedded in some external firmware but in NVRAM inside the part itself. A convenient idea but the real action -- IMO any patentable bit -- would be the process that allows OTP or EEROM to coexist with the rest of the chip's silicon. So the 'bright idea' of dynamically altering the clock would also need a whole bunch of other 'bright ideas' for it to be a practical reality. What these trolls like to do is to come up with an overarching bright idea and then effectively mooch off all the work needed to make it a practical reality, something the USPTO and the Texas court system appears to be only to happy to oblige them.

  4. Precordial thump Bronze badge

    it's obvious

    I seem to remember that MS sought and were granted a patent on the idea of testing for inequality by a negating modifier to the test for equality, i.e. "Is Not". Eventually it was struck down for obviousness, but only after the lawyers took their cut.

    In sane countries patents apply to implementations: processes and methods, not ideas and algorithms. Something's gone very wrong somewhere.

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