Patent Trolling Carnegie Mellon Wins What Could Be Largest Patent Verdict Ever: $1.2 Billion

by Mike Masnick
Dec. 27, 2012

The Apple/Samsung patent battle has been getting lots of attention, but a new verdict has eclipsed the record $1.05 billion that a jury awarded in that case -- and this time its to Carnegie Mellon University, after a jury has ruled that Marvell Technology Group should have to pay $1.17 billion for infringing a single claim in each of two patents. Specifically, the company was found guilty of infringing on claim 4 of US Patent 6,201,839 which reads:
A method of determining branch metric values for branches of a trellis for a Viterbi-like detector, comprising:

selecting a branch metric function for each of the branches at a certain time index from a set of signal-dependent branch metric functions; and applying each of said selected functions to a plurality of signal samples to determine the metric value corresponding to the branch for which the applied branch metric function was selected, wherein each sample corresponds to a different sampling time instant.
And claim 2 of US Patent 6,438,180 (which is a continuation patent of the '839 patent), which reads:
The method of claim 1, wherein the branch metric function is selected from a set of signal-dependent branch metric functions.
And, for that, the jury says that they need to pay $1.17 billion -- which the judge now has the option of tripling, as the jury also found that the infringement was willful. Of course, at this stage, the ruling is somewhat meaningless, because it will be appealed, and we'll have to wait for that whole process to play out. However, if the verdict does stand, it will be the largest ever patent award. Other verdicts have come in higher, but have all later been reduced (sometimes significantly). Furthermore, Marvell argued during the trial that a different patent held by Seagate, US Patent 6,282,251 was not only filed and granted way before the Marvell patents, but that it covers everything in both of those patents.

Now, as is the case in so many patent fights, many people assume that the defendant "copied" the patent, or that this was about a business deal gone wrong. However, as came out during the trial, CMU has never licensed this patent to anyone. It just sat on it and sued. As Joe Mullin covers in his coverage of the rulings, this is yet another case highlighting how many universities are acting just like patent trolls these days, trying to justify their failed "tech transfer" investments into patents by playing the game exactly like patent trolls. Furthermore, CMU's lawyers completely played up the entirely bogus story line that Marvell somehow "stole" these ideas from CMU -- even prompting objections and the judge stepping in to warn the lawyers to stop with the bogus claims:
Marvell lawyers said CMU's closing statement was "rife with misrepresentations," including suggestions that Marvell "broke the chain of innovation by not paying the royalties that they now owe," and noting those payments would be used "to fund further research, to lead to further innovation." That resulted in a short conference at the side bar, in which the judge warned "you can't dig deep into all of CMU's contributions to society and mankind."

CMU's attorney also started to compare Marvell's alleged patent infringement to identity theft. "The invention in this case is like your electronic identity, your credit card numbers, your Social Security number," said CMU lawyer Douglas Greenswag. "It's that which [sic] are very personal and valuable to you. You devote years to building up your reputation, your credit rating, your standing. One day Marvell sneaks inó"

At that point he was cut off by an objection and was not able to complete the analogy.
This is the sad legacy of the Bayh-Dole Act, which made it much easier for universities to get patents on their research. Rather than increasing their ability to do the fundamental research that is needed to help develop new technologies, universities have, instead, been trying to hoard patents to use to sue companies who actually innovate, usually with no knowledge of the patents held by the universities. Rulings like this one will not encourage greater spread of knowledge, information and research, but will only serve to incentivize universities to continue to act more and more like trolls, in hopes of a giant payday. That such crazy lawsuits may destroy companies who are actually out there innovating is, apparently, not much of a concern.

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