Today’s Cache | Battles over patents

Today’s Cache is a daily column dissecting big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy.

Updated - March 24, 2022 02:27 pm IST

Published - March 23, 2022 03:57 pm IST

Picture used for representational purposes only.

Picture used for representational purposes only. | Photo Credit: Freepik

Battles over intellectual property (IP) are common in the tech world. They have been fought in courts for a long time, but don’t often end there. Let’s look at how two cases, about a decade apart, started and ended.

Among several lawsuits, the one between Microsoft and Lucent stands out, purely because of the massive amount of money claimed in damages.

When Lucent sued Microsoft in 2003, the telecom company claimed $1.5 billion in damages. The company, which would go on to merge with France’s Alcatel three years later, claimed that the MP3 capabilities of the Windows Media Player infringed on its IP related MP3 and MPEG encoding and compression technologies.

A jury found that Microsoft infringed on Alcatel-Lucent’s technology, and awarded $1.52 billion in damages in 2007. But Microsoft didn’t pay the record-setting figure as it appealed the jury’s decision, stating that it had already paid $16 million to license the MP3 technology.

The company said that it had acquired the license from a co-owner of the patent in question. The software giant said the French company failed to show where it used the patent technology in its music player.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the case, and ending that favoured Microsoft. This was one of the six lawsuits that the Windows maker faced against Lucent. The two companies finally settled most of their patent litigation cases out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Six years after this settlement, another patent infringement battle began. This time, the bigger firm was Apple. In 2014, a Canadian patent-licensing firm WiLAN accused the iPhone of infringing its IP related to wireless technology. WiLAN claimed that iPhone 5 and 6 models infringed its patents by using the LTE wireless standard.

Apple took the Canadian firm to court, and sought a ruling that it did not infringe patents of WiLAN. But a jury found Apple to have violated WiLAN’s patents, and awarded the latter $145 million in damages.

In 2020, following a retrial, a new jury awarded $85 million in damages to WiLAN. Two years later, in February, Apple convinced the Court of Appeals to dismiss the multi-million-dollar award on several grounds, including issues with the patent-licensing firm’s expert testimony.

The two companies have now settled the dispute, once again, like the Microsoft-Lucent litigation, out of court.

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