Apple Dealt $21.7 Million Judgement for Violating Chip Patent

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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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