Professor Gurindar Sohi and Terani Vijaykumar are two Indian names, having won accolades recently for emerging winners in a one of a kind, David vs Goliath case, proving that when it comes to the world of technology, the U.S. justice system does play fair. For starters tech giant Apple Inc. will not be getting away with intellectual property infringement easily after this.
The Indian born engineers, having Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) in Pilani, Rajasthan as their alumnus; having moved to the U.S. for graduate studies after completing their stint at BITS, and were a part of a team of four inventors that sued Apple in the United States recently for using the former’s patent technology in their products so as to “augment proficiency and performance” of their signature products, without authorization. They brought the lawsuit against phone giant in early 2014, through the Wisconsin Alumni Research foundation (WARF), the accrediting arm of the University of Wisconsin and the designated patent management organization for the University.
Vijaykumar attained his doctorate in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin in 1997 and is currently a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, Indiana. Sohi obtained his doctorate in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Illinois. They have worked together for enhancing chip performance.
According to the lawsuit, the following are the main facts of analysis;
- The complaint was filed by WARF which collects the revenues generated by the patents, in order to fund the research of its alumni. Sohi and Vijaykumar are both part of the team of four engineers, the other two being Andreas Moshovos and Scott Breach, who created a “Table Based Data Speculation Circuit for Parallel Processing Computer” also known as Patent No. 5781752 simply the ‘752 patent’. Sohi was the lead engineer of this project, which was granted a patent in the U.S. in 1998.
- The patented technology owned by University of Wisconsin-Madison was incorporated in A7, A8, and A8X, which are computer chips being used in Apple devices like iPhone 5S, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6, and a few models of iPad which incorporated the patented technology owned by University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was used by Apple eventually so as to “augment proficiency and performance” and improve the processing power of its iPhone and iPad processors, without permission, attribution or monetary compensation, as per the complaint.
- According to WARF, as stated in the Wisconsin Court, the patented work is recognized as a major landmark in the area of Computer Microprocessor Architecture/Design”. It further provides for improvement of the power efficiency and performance in processors with the help of “data speculation circuit” granted to the team for their labour and ingenuity.
- An extract from the WARF’s complaint states; “the work has been recognized as a major milestone in the field of computer architecture and design. Sohi, as the leader of the lab that developed this 752 patent, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering based on his work in the field of computer architecture.”
- WARF had sued Apple for a whopping sum of $862.4 million, for including its microchip technology into some of the company’s iPhones and iPads without authorization but the jury awarded only $264 million to the WARF team the same being less than the $400 million from the originally claimed amount.
The U.S. jury ruled that Apple infringed upon all of the six patents mentioned in WARF’s complaint and rejected Apple’s claim that it had not infringed upon it as the patent was invalid. WARF had filed a similar case against another tech-giant, Intel, in 2008 for using the same ‘patent 752’, which was found in their Intel Core2Due CPU. This was settled out of court for an anonymous amount.
Despite the grief-stricken Apple having escaped with more than a $500 million cut in the jury award, this judgment has thrown opened a wide set of windows for futuristic similar patent awards. This case also enlightens the battles in the cutthroat U.S. tech industry as against the fierce protection of alumni research by the Universities. Most university laboratories have been the backdrop for major ground-breaking technology patents, like semi-conductors, microprocessors, browsers, amongst others. If the census surveys are to be believed, approximately $20 billion were expended merely on patent litigation battles as well as patent purchases from 2010-2012 in the smartphone industry alone.