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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  • mode_13h - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    So, you figure $700 per device? They're not talking only about phones. I'm sure they also mean to include lower cost devices, like iPod Touch.

    Why is $1.40/device reasonable? Depending on how many other patents the device utilizes, for which license fees must be paid, it could be quite a lot.

    I'd like to see governments assert an eminent domain argument, for standards. Once the standard is settled, I think there's a strong argument for the public good that should shut out claims by parties who didn't assert their claims before or during the standardization process. However, I don't know if it would necessarily apply, in this case.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    One point I forgot to mention: you're looking at the final sale price. However, if they charge a $1.40 tax on Apple (or its suppliers), then that amount is subject to the usual markups.
  • bill.rookard - Sunday, February 2, 2020 - link

    My problem isn't that they're charging for the patent, my problem is that they receive federal funding dollars for the research - then turn around the research they develop and patent it which costs the public again. So the public pays for the development, then we pay for what we paid to develop.

    If they want to patent what they develop, fine, but we shouldn't be paying for it with our tax dollars.
  • Spunjji - Monday, February 3, 2020 - link

    "my problem is that they receive federal funding dollars for the research"
    I see people make claims like this a lot, but I've yet to see it made by a person with a working knowledge of higher education and research funding. I think you'll find it's not that simple.

    "If they want to patent what they develop, fine, but we shouldn't be paying for it with our tax dollars."
    Fine, but then they'll need more of your tax dollars to make up the funding shortfall. Skip out on that, and universities will begin dying off at an even faster rate, and it'll be harder (and more expensive) to provide the higher education required to develop technology like this in the first place.

    It might be best to just stop being irritated by how "your" tax dollars are being spent in situations where you don't fully understand the systems they're being invested into.
  • Rookierookie - Thursday, February 6, 2020 - link

    Caltech is a private school. That's not to say they don't receive federal funding, but can you really judge how much tax dollars was involved in the research?
  • id4andrei - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    How? Exactly in the same way Apple sued Samsung for patents google infringed with android that ultimately Samsung had to pay for.
  • flgt - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    I'm getting tired of these universities. They put all their students in massive debt with crazy tuition and beg for donations from companies. Then they turn around and start suing everyone. My last recruiting visit for my company felt like a shake down. Are these educational institutions or my competitors?
  • imaheadcase - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    Its kind of silly to me that a university can hold any patent at all. Unless it was someone who actually was under contract from them for the purpose of making it in the first place, it should be a open and cut free thing. I would be pissed if i was a group of students who invented something and the uni decided its property of them now because you made it under them.

    In fact i would say they same thing about any company, apparently you can make up something new at any company and if was on the clock, they can say it was for the company and take it. Its actually happened before at walmart.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - link

    Eh, it cuts both ways. If you look at it from the University's perspective, they don't want profs and students using their funding and facilities to research the core IP for some startup, essentially for free, and then leave to go found it and pocket the windfall.

    It's especially bad for tenured profs, who can basically check out, do a startup, all while their seat is there and waiting for them. There's a case to be made that the University should have a stake.

    Anyway, let's not forget that patents are about putting information and techniques into the public domain (eventually). As such, they're not fundamentally incompatible with the academic mission.
  • Spunjji - Monday, February 3, 2020 - link

    They don't just "say" that - it's pretty openly stated up-front. If you were in a group of students and were pissed that your uni patented your invention, the first question would be how you got that far without realising that's how all of this works.

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