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Summary:

In a decision made final last week, Apple was ordered to pay out $27.1 million to OPTi, a semiconductor company that now deals only in licensing its intellectual property. The decision came down from Eastern District of Texas court judge Chad Everingham, and it is a […]

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In a decision made final last week, Apple was ordered to pay out $27.1 million to OPTi, a semiconductor company that now deals only in licensing its intellectual property. The decision came down from Eastern District of Texas court judge Chad Everingham, and it is a penalty for patent infringement on Apple’s part.

The lawsuit, filed in January 2007 and tried before the court in April of this year, centered around the accusation by OPTi that Apple had violated a patent Opti held detailing “Predictive Snooping of Cache Memory for Master-Initiated Accesses.” I had no idea what it meant, either.

Turns out this is what it means, according to The Mac Observer:

When a PCI-bus controller receives a request from a PCI-bus master to transfer data with an address in secondary memory, the controller performs an initial inquire cycle and withholds TRDY# to the PCI-bus master until any write-back cycle completes. The controller then allows the burst access to take place between secondary memory and the PCI-bus master, and simultaneously and predictively, performs an inquire cycle of the L1 cache for the next cache line. In this manner, if the PCI burst continues past the cache line boundary, the new inquire cycle will already have taken place, or will already be in progress, thereby allowing the burst to proceed with, at most, a short delay. Predictive snoop cycles are not performed if the first transfer of a PCI-bus master access would be the last transfer before a cache line boundary is reached.

I’m slightly more informed now, but I’d be lying if I said I had the technical expertise to point out where exactly this kind of tech is being used in Apple products. Whatever the case, the judge thought it strong enough to decide in favor of OPTi. Which isn’t to say the matter is over with. Apple intends to appeal the decision, sources say, and it has a few channels to go through before it expends all of its options.

The good news for Apple with this ruling is that the judge found no evidence of “willful infringement,” meaning that any violation that occurred was just the innocent result of having used the same idea that OPTi had patented coincidentally, and not with the express purpose of ripping them off. As a result, Apple wasn’t required to pay OPTi’s legal fees in the matter, according to a press release (PDF) issued by the winning party.

While I understand the need for a system in which smaller companies can protect their intellectual property against much larger ones, cases like this, which aren’t exactly patent trolling but which involve a company whose sole purpose has become the licensing of ideas, really get my goat. The problem being, they affect Apple’s bottom line (which is why they’re fighting it so adamantly, even though $21.7 million isn’t a huge hit to them). Every time one of these suits goes against the Mac maker, the consumer ends up being the one who pays.

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  1. The decision in this court is pretty meaningless. They are a known patent troll mecca. The appeal will be more important.

    As I understand the patent, even if it is found to be valid, Apple is not the infringer – the chip manufacturers (perhaps the northbridge/southbridge manufacturers, as well) would be the infringers. Even if Apple is found to be infringing and has to pay a fine, they almost certainly have an indemnification clause in their contract with the chip manufacturers which would reimburse them.

  2. Concurring Poster Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    I concur!

  3. Both Apple and more particularly Microsoft have both exhibited cavalier attitudes towards others I.P. It is high time that both these companies learned that paying after being caught is not the remedy rather than honest dealing, up front, getting licences for appropriate amounts, is the proper way.

    Of course this theft of I.P. affects the bottom line for it is the motivation for the acts. Money.

    Apple should be grateful to Xeroz that the Mac GUI was never fought out in court for their licencing fees would be substantial by this time.

    Quote: “…but which involve a company whose sole purpose has become the licensing of ideas, really get my goat. ” Have you read some of the patent applications files by Apple or MS recently of note are those of the former with respect to screen gestures.

  4. So you’re saying it’s OK for Apple to rip-off smaller companies because it benefits purchasers of Apple products? How is this fair?

    1. “I understand the need for a system in which smaller companies can protect their intellectual property against much larger ones”

      I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not ok for Apple to rip off smaller companies, but when you’re *un-knowingly* ripping off a company who patents technology just so it can sue if anyone ever makes it? I think that’s fair enough.

      It’s a bit of a travesty that such a company can even exist, imho.

  5. Ignorance (in this case not knowing something was patented) is not an excuse for breaking the law. If you invest time and money in to developing something it’s only fair that you pay to file, translate and protect for a time that you see fit, and that’s not a cheap process (I think patent terms are 5 – 10 years or something?)

    1. According to Wikipedia the patent terms are 20 years.

      It also seems that ignorance, although not an excuse, is relevant – at least according to the judge:

      ‘the judge found no evidence of “willful infringement,”’

      As I say, companies should have some way to protect their patents but this particular case does not seem in the spirit of patent law. It’s certainly not unique but companies who only make money from their patents by suing infringers don’t sit right with me.

      I may be alone in my opinions (well, apart from Darrell) – it certainly looks like that way.

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