MIT uses patent from 1997 to sue Apple over chips

13 Comments

Credit: Kevin C. Tofel/Gigaom

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a patent lawsuit against Apple and its suppliers this week, claiming that semiconductor wafers found in the company’s computers and mobile devices infringe on a patent obtained by two academics more than 15 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Boston federal court, claims that Idaho-based Micron Technology knew about a laser-cutting method described in the patent, but used it all the same when supplying DRAM semiconductor devices for products like iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs.

The patent itself was issued to Joseph Bernstein, who is now an engineering professor in Israel, and a co-inventor, Zhihui Duan. MIT claims it controls the right to the patent, which has a 1997 filing date and was issued in 2000. The school says it’s entitled to damages and to royalties on all Apple products that contain chips using the laser method in question.

I’m not qualified to pronounce on the technology but, for those of you who can, here’s what the patent claims:

a method for cutting a link between interconnected circuits comprising the following steps:Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 12.51.08 PM

directing a laser upon an electrically-conductive cut-link pad conductively bonded between a first electrically-conductive line and a second electrically-conductive line on a substrate,
the cut-link pad having substantially less thermal resistance per unit length than each of the first and second lines, wherein the width of the cut-link pad is at least ten percent greater than the width of each of the first and second electrically-conductive lines; and maintaining the laser upon the cut-link pad until the laser infuses sufficient energy into the cut-link pad to break the conductive link across the cut-link pad between the pair of electrically-conductive lines.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time that a Massachusetts university has come calling on Apple with demands over patents from long ago. In 2013, Boston University used a patent from 1997 that covered blue LED lights to team up with a contingency-based law firm from Texas to seek an order banning the sale of the iPhone 5, and then moved on to make similar demands of dozens of other tech firms.

Such tactics by universities are unpopular with many in Silicon Valley, and raise the question of whether the lawsuits based on old patents are really promoting innovation, or are instead just an attempt by lawyer and technology transfer offices to rustle up more cash.

Here’s the filing:

MIT v Apple

13 Comments

NateG

A patent has a legal life of about twenty years, so expecting payment for use of a fifteen year old patent is both legal and proper. No rational person or organization stops seeking reimbursement for use of their patented inventions before the patent expires.

Of course this case is being brought because MIT wants to generate revenue: That is precisely why we have a patent system, to provide a financial incentive for individuals and organizations to innovate. Without patent protection, a concept which is approved in the U.S. Constitution, the incentive to invest large amounts of time and money on research and development is weakened, as free-riders can steal inventors ideas. In that case, the economics becomes a race to the bottom based on price, economies of scale, etc., which is not conducive to fundamental research.

Charles Wilson

“The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Boston federal court, claims that Idaho-based Micron Technology knew about a laser-cutting method described in the patent, but used it all the same when supplying DRAM semiconductor devices for products like iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs.”

This means that MIT should be suing Micron (the manufacturer of the chips using the claimed patented technology). MIT is going after Apple for two reasons: 1) Apple is a much bigger name than Micron and gets the suit more publicity and 2) Apple’s contracts with Micron surely include an indemnity clause that will require Micron to step in and fight this battle — yet with the lawsuit against Apple, Micron will have to defend against attempts very, very large sums of money as, “Apple is making tons of profits due to chips built with these techniques therefore the damages are huge.” If MIT had gone against Micron the profits Micron makes on the chips themselves is small compared to what Apple makes on the entire devices. MIT is going after Apple’s profits for no other reason than they’re a much, much bigger number.

If the judge has half a brain he or she will throw this out and tell MIT to sue Micron directly.

Sam Houston

“Such tactics by universities are unpopular with many in Silicon Valley, and raise the question of whether the lawsuits based on old patents are really promoting innovation, or are instead just an attempt by lawyer and technology transfer offices to rustle up more cash.”. So its OK to use patents when companies go after each other to protect their sales or block competition, but its seen as blocking their innovation when the tables are turned. Cant have it both ways Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, etc.

reiszrie

You obviously don’t have a very good understanding of the subject at hand.

daas

What’s the standard fan boy position on point…Micron, Samsung, TMSC, etc. are mere manufacturers. Apple DESIGNS its tech independently and without the contribution of others and graciously hands it to the cheapest bidder to make. It’s called Apple “magic” and it just works (notwithstanding Ping, Apple Maps, iOS 8 updates that brick their phones, iPhoto’s predecessor, etc., etc., etc.)

Rann Xeroxx

Apple takes others designs and tweaks them for their own use. The A8, for example, is a ARM designed chip that Apple license and adds their specs to then pass to Samsung (I believe that’s right).

Apple is a design and marketing company at its heart. They just happen to sell tech.

JC Holy Man Payne- The KIN of Holy Jesus Christ

I am sorry to bother yo with this question. I know the compter is littered with symbolism but I have to ask.

I was thinking of filling a law suit exposing the satanic nature of the computer industry.

Can a person sue a company like Apple for using hidden references such as this on ? OS X (ou es ten) O Satan.

the roman X=10 and when you convert 10 28,44,88 this pater forms and they all me to hate. 44 a reference to the deils name and 88 the international symbol for hate representin Ra Dio the Devil.

greggthurman

I’m confused. To the best of my knowledge Apple designs semi-conductors, but does not manufacture them. Unless Apple dictates how the chips are made wouldn’t this issue be better addressed with the manufacturers (Samsung, TSMC, Micron, et al) of the offending chips?

And if that’s true, wouldn’t there be an indemnity or hold harmless clause in the production contract that protects Apple from this sort of suit?

J Nicholas Gross

If the technology is “old” and still being used, that tells you that its worthwhile. If it is truly “old and useless” than Micron and rest can come up with a different, “newer” way, right?

Inventor

This case is not so simple. MIT has been negotiating with Elpida since 2007!! Then Apple chose this particular technology before an agreement was reached and when Elpida declared bankruptcy. Then Micron bought Elpida, saving Apple, but this was their chosen DRAM for A5-A6 and now A7 products.

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