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Jury Hits Marvell With $1 Billion+ Fine Over CMU Patents 167

Posted by timothy
from the billion-with-a-b dept.
Dupple writes with news carried by the BBC of a gigantic tech-patent case that (seemingly for once) doesn't involve Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, or Google: "'U.S. chipmaker Marvell Technology faces having to pay one of the biggest ever patent damage awards. A jury in Pittsburgh found the firm guilty of infringing two hard disk innovations owned by local university Carnegie Mellon.' Though the company claims that the CMU patents weren't valid because the university hadn't invented anything new, saying a Seagate patent of 14 months earlier described everything that the CMU patents do, the jury found that Marvell's chips infringed claim 4 of Patent No. 6,201,839 and claim 2 of Patent No. 6,438,180. "method and apparatus for correlation-sensitive adaptive sequence detection" and "soft and hard sequence detection in ISI memory channels.' 'It said Marvell should pay $1.17bn (£723m) in compensation — however that sum could be multiplied up to three times by the judge because the jury had also said the act had been "wilful." Marvell's shares fell more than 10%.'"
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Jury Hits Marvell With $1 Billion+ Fine Over CMU Patents

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 27, 2012 @09:56AM (#42403253)

    Now stop asking me for money.

    • by Jonah Hex (651948) <hexdotms&gmail,com> on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:04AM (#42403299) Homepage Journal
      No shit, they should dedicate a whole new building to Marvell Technology, with special thanks to the jury members. It would of course be known as the M.T. Building for short. - HEX
    • Time for us students to get a tuition discount?

      What I've always wondered is how do they come up with these numbers. If the revenue raises by that number over adding the patented tech on the standard products, then it would be fair, as we are only taking the money the transgressor made. Potentially multiplying that by 3 as a deterrent for willful infraction seems also reasonable, else every company would then just infringe on the chance it does not get caught.

      The article does mention 2.3 billion chips s
  • by jcdr (178250) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @09:57AM (#42403259)

    Maybe still not enough to trigger any reaction ?

    We will soon live in a world without any privacy, paying for everything, and where thinking is forbidden.
    Money, money, money....

    Still something to eat ?

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:00AM (#42403275) Homepage

    Look at this graph [wordpress.com], move the time scale forward and change 'hole left by Christian dark ages' to 'hole left by fear of patent infringement'.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:08AM (#42403325)

      Critical thinker unthinkingly accepts chart with made up numbers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What, exactly, are the units on the vertical axis?

      Where does the mathematical work done in the Middle East while Europe was snoozing a religious nightmare fit in there?

    • by alen (225700) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @10:58AM (#42403681)

      you're an idiot

      the Christian Dark Ages was a European event. China and the Middle East were the centers of science and learning at the time. China, The Eastern Roman Empire, Persia, the Arabs' conquered territories.

      the reason for the dark ages was that hundreds of different tribes of "barbarians" conquered the western roman empire. once they settled down their traditions of dividing the lands among all the sons created a power vacuum as the kids would go to war with each other. mostly small minor wars that no one remembers anymore. add the vikings pillaging as well. it took a few hundred years for Charlemagne and other strong monarchs to emerge and even then the empire was divided into 3 parts which caused all the wars for the next thousand years

      the Christian Church is kept some knowledge alive during these times. the kings and other nobles couldn't read and basic skills like reading, writing and making books was done by the Christian Church. these newly settled barbarians had no way to duplicate what the Romans had done. when the Turks had all but conquered the Eastern Roman Empire all the artists went to Europe to jump start the Renaissance

      China was sailing most of the world by the late middle ages and it was a dumb chinese king that stopped it that allowed Europe to rise up.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The key word there, in the last sentence, is "stopped".

        A "dumb king" has all but stopped space exploration by the US, and it looks like China will be sailing by once again.

        • by alen (225700)

          really? the dumb king stopped a pork project that's nothing but a jobs program for congressional districts

          private space flight is here and the US is also quietly investing in it

          • by dkleinsc (563838)

            I agree, private space flight is great news.

            In defense of NASA, though, it produces some really awesome results, mostly in the form of scientific efforts and engineering that other organizations can't (or won't) do. For example, nobody else has managed to even come close to landing rovers on Mars. Sure, private ventures might eventually do that, but one thing governments can do that private companies can't is make investments that will take decades to pay off.

            There are a lot of real pork projects to cut: fi

    • Do you know the difference between Chatholic and Christian? Also what is the point of renaming the "dark or middle ages" to have an anti christian theme?
    • That graph kind of reminds me of the Dune books. Just like there, the Catholic church may have been the reason Europe progressed so quickly compared to the rest of the world.
      A millennium of forced stagnation to make people despise religious calls for 'slower change', and enough different nations in a small area to have plenty of backups when one or two tried to slow down the pace of development.

  • So they claim Marvel make hard drives but since they don't, I take it they're talking about their SSD controllers? There's no way in hell they made a billion off that. Otherwise the article contradicts itself and says they instead supply parts for others to make spinning hard drives and gives a number. They said WD is their big customer but not sole customer so...Seagate sued their own supplier? Or they join sued or...I don't get it. Really nothing in this article makes sense. Does anyone have a link
  • do they make any products? they should just give up their patents for the good of the geeks

    • If CMU invested capital in discovering/creating these innovations, they should get *some* return on their investment. Otherwise, they'll have to stop discovering/innovating because they can't afford it.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        Why are they entitled to a return? I invested in a number of things without a return.

        Do we design entire systems where people are entitle to returns just because they invested in something?

        • Returns are how you score the game. Or, to put it another way – is what you doing adding value or are you just blowing in the wind.

          And if you have invested in things that don’t return returns I suggest that you are not investing – you’re doing something else. Doesn’t mean you doing things wrong – it’s just not investing.

      • But you can also decide to forego this return on investment for the good of mankind. Which, arguably, is what universities should be pursuing in the first place, not trying to maximize their ROI, as private companies do very well.

        Profits are very useful because you get valuable information about what you're doing and it allows resources to be put to the most valuable use. But it doesn't really apply to basic research. That kind of research is not meant to create products that can be sold for a profit, but t

  • Individual patent claims are not sufficient to describe the scope of a patent. They only do so collectively. So, how is it that Marvell (or anyone else) can be held liable for violating a single claim?

    Of course, I'm thinking of the infamous claim: "A microprocessor controller comprising memory, input-output and memory", which when added to prior art seems to create novel technology in the eyes of the USPTO. If one could violate a single claim, then this one alone would innovation in the computing field.

    • You're clearly confused about what a claim in a patent is. Each claim of a patent is considered to be a separate invention, although you can have dependent claims (e.g. "The system of claim 1 where..."), which would include everything from the claim that it depends on, in addition to what is in the dependent claim. "A microprocessor controller comprising memory, input-output and memory" could never be an entire claim, unless you really were the first person to invent the microcontroller. Things like "proces
  • What's with this urge to punish? What has Marvell done that's so evil? Other than being a powerful US corporation, that is.

    A good system would not be so punitive. And the application is so arbitrary and uneven. It isn't even clear that any crime was committed at all, and levying harsh punishments in such situations is just plain evil. I'll whip up a car analogy: two people are arguing over who owns a car and go to court. The court orders that the car be destroyed, and for good measure, that their d

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ifthir (1446587)

      What's with this urge to punish? What has Marvell done that's so evil? Other than being a powerful US corporation, that is.

      They made billions of dollars off the patents of others and didn't pay appropriately to the patent holders?

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        Thing is, making money is how for-profit entities operate. Non-profits, like CMU, get grants and patronage. I admit, without a proper patronage system, which the GP suggests, CMU is frequently going to come up short on funds, especially if they want to expand and improve their research abilities. That does not mean, however, that making a lot of money means that it's okay to punish a for-profit business for taking that idea and making profit on it without being just a little critical of the system that e

      • What's with this urge to punish? What has Marvell done that's so evil? Other than being a powerful US corporation, that is.

        They made billions of dollars off the patents of others and didn't pay appropriately to the patent holders?

        Seagate? I haven't penetrated the patent speak of the patents in question, but the 839 patent looks suspiciously similar to the Seagate patent referenced. This is just an example of courts and expensive lawyers doing the job that should be done up front by the US patent office, ie. looking for and evaluating prior art.

        Patent awards should be (as I understand it) compensated on what the plaintiff would have made had the infringement not taken place (lost sales or licensing fees). I would be very surprised if

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        What's with this urge to punish? What has Marvell done that's so evil? Other than being a powerful US corporation, that is.

        They made billions of dollars off the patents of others and didn't pay appropriately to the patent holders?

        I would hope that a judge/jury would only be able to award punitive damages if the plaintiff provided convincing evidence that the defendant willfully and knowingly violated the plaintiff's patents.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          You mean like how Marvell turned down CMU's offer to license the patents? I think that constitutes willful infringement, don't you?

  • Am I the only person who thought this article was about Marvel Comics, and wondered what they could do to get a billion dollar patent judgement against them? A patent on rocket-propellled iron suits?

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @11:24AM (#42403841) Homepage Journal

    The idea of a jury of non-engineers deciding on their novelty is at best weird.

    • by Yabol (970939) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @11:46AM (#42404021) Homepage
      The idea of a bunch of people from Pittsburgh voting to not give CMU a bunch of loot is at best weird.
      • Pittsburgh is a modern day Shelbyville from The Simpsons. They have 446 bridges and but spent half a billion dollars drilling a tunnel under the river for their light rail line. Rumor has it the project cut corners and will have to close in a few years because the yearly maintenance will bankrupt the city.

    • The idea of a jury of non-engineers deciding on their novelty is at best weird.

      There are expert witnesses on both sides who are saying that the patents are either novel or not. Really, the jury is deciding on the credibility of those witnesses, and you don't need an engineer for that.

      • by pipedwho (1174327)

        The idea of a jury of non-engineers deciding on their novelty is at best weird.

        There are expert witnesses on both sides who are saying that the patents are either novel or not. Really, the jury is deciding on the credibility of those witnesses, and you don't need an engineer for that.

        Actually, you do. Expert witnesses are picked based on their ability to convince a layman that they are more credible than the opposing 'expert witness'. And on more than one occasion, I've personally butted heads against an opposing 'expert' that was so far out of his depth that any random slashdotter would have put him to shame. However, he always sounded very convincing and sincere when in his 'expert opinion', he strongly disagreed with his "learned colleague's" assertions. I have no idea how this guy g

        • The idea of a jury of non-engineers deciding on their novelty is at best weird.

          There are expert witnesses on both sides who are saying that the patents are either novel or not. Really, the jury is deciding on the credibility of those witnesses, and you don't need an engineer for that.

          Actually, you do. Expert witnesses are picked based on their ability to convince a layman that they are more credible than the opposing 'expert witness'. And on more than one occasion, I've personally butted heads against an opposing 'expert' that was so far out of his depth that any random slashdotter would have put him to shame. However, he always sounded very convincing and sincere when in his 'expert opinion', he strongly disagreed with his "learned colleague's" assertions. I have no idea how this guy got his technical 'qualifications', but it was clear he is chosen for his presentability and not his engineering expertise. I also assume that, in general, this guy (and all those like him) just say whatever they're being paid to say.

          What's a jury to do when they are faced with that? Decide credibility based on whichever one reminded them more of their favourite uncle?

          Without any ability to be able to understand the technical merits of what is being presented, there is no way a jury can make an appropriate determination between two opposing 'paid-for' experts.

          The jury should decide based on the evidence presented at trial and the credibility of the witnesses. Otherwise, they're not judging the facts before them, but their pre-existing and prejudicial knowledge of related facts. Basically, what you're suggesting is that they use knowledge external to the trial - the same thing people on Slashdot complained about when Hogan did it in the Apple/Samsung trial.

          • by pipedwho (1174327)

            This applies to regular juries where there is a single source of (potentially faulty) external knowledge being introduced into the jury box. In that situation there is a good chance that the introduced 'external testimony' will go unchallenged. That is what happened in the Apple/Samsung case - the jury basically listened to one guy who was able to gain their trust as being an impartial expert on the issue at hand. In reality he was heavily biased and didn't properly understand the issues. But, since there w

            • This applies to regular juries where there is a single source of (potentially faulty) external knowledge being introduced into the jury box. In that situation there is a good chance that the introduced 'external testimony' will go unchallenged. That is what happened in the Apple/Samsung case - the jury basically listened to one guy who was able to gain their trust as being an impartial expert on the issue at hand. In reality he was heavily biased and didn't properly understand the issues. But, since there weren't 11 other people on the jury that could refute his claims or offer alternative interpretations, the final decision naturally leant towards whatever his biases were.

              Actually, there were. At least one of the other people on the jury had a patent, and two others did during voir dire. They were even in computer related professions.

              A purely non-expert jury sounds good in theory if you don't mind allowing the trial to continue for 3 years while the jury learns all the necessary background knowledge to be able to understand and decide on the technical issue at hand - and that's assuming the jury is even capable. That is why these things should not be handled by jury trials where the jury has no background in the technical area(s) at hand.

              The 'facts' in this case could very well be presented to an expert panel (randomly chosen from people working in the appropriate field(s)), and have the technical issue decided there. Then the lay jury could decide on the remaining facts. But, why have two juries, when the expert jury could easily decide on both. Even a half-and-half jury of randomly selected experts and laymen would be better than having a jury entirely composed of men and women unable to properly understand the facts.

              Professional juries are an aspect of many European legal systems, so take that as you will.

              • by pipedwho (1174327)

                Actually, there were. At least one of the other people on the jury had a patent, and two others did during voir dire. They were even in computer related professions.

                So instead of one juror with a vested interest in keeping the patent system broken, they had two?

                That is truly scary. What proportion of the population in CA would have to hold patents for a 'randomly' selected sample to uncover 4 patent holders during jury empanelment? Those odds are like selecting a jury from a prison ward and finding a handful had been previously convicted of the same crime, and letting a couple still serve on the panel.

                There are very few patents that would survive a full scrutiny in the

                • Actually, there were. At least one of the other people on the jury had a patent, and two others did during voir dire. They were even in computer related professions.

                  So instead of one juror with a vested interest in keeping the patent system broken, they had two?

                  That is truly scary.

                  No, that's supposition and FUD.

                  What proportion of the population in CA would have to hold patents for a 'randomly' selected sample to uncover 4 patent holders during jury empanelment? Those odds are like selecting a jury from a prison ward and finding a handful had been previously convicted of the same crime, and letting a couple still serve on the panel.

                  Sounds like you've never been to Silicon Valley.

                  There are very few patents that would survive a full scrutiny in the face of reasonable limits on obviousness and similarity to prior art.

                  [Citation needed]

                  And far too many patents are simply milking the system. Anyone with a patent either knows this to be true and plays along, or is deluding themselves into believing they are so much cleverer than everyone else in the field.

                  Disagree with you and they must be a shill, right? Why bother with facts and logic when you've got fallacies, eh?

  • by BillX (307153) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @12:42PM (#42404391) Homepage

    Ars has another article [arstechnica.com]; this one actually cites the patent numbers and specific claims found to be infringing.

    Reading one of the claims, I can't imagine how a jury of Joe Sixpacks could possibly come to a rational conclusion on whether or not infringement occured. I'm an EE and it's gibberish to me without putting some significant Google-time in. Claim 4 of US6201389, for example:

    "4. A method of determining branch metric values for branches of a trellis for a Viterbi-like detector, comprising:

            selecting a branch metric function for each of the branches at a certain time index from a set of signal-dependent branch metric functions; and
            applying each of said selected functions to a plurality of signal samples to determine the metric value corresponding to the branch for which the applied branch metric function was selected, wherein each sample corresponds to a different sampling time instant."

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      This sort of stuff is why I'm inclined to believe Marvell's claims that the earlier Seagate patents cover their devices, rendering the University's claims void.

      Beside that, I'd tend to assign the value for the 'innovations' at around a dime to penny per device, making the 'value' of the infringement more in the low to mid millions.

      Consider that a lot of HD's go for ~$40, and that the controller chip is only part of that system. Say $10. Given that the patents are for incremental improvements, that's like $

  • Great.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 27, 2012 @12:56PM (#42404503)

    A U.S. University trying to put a U.S. Technology company out of business. Way to go guys. There aren't too many U.S. Technology companies left, and this is why.

    We are putting ourselves out of business!

    • Yeah, we wouldn't want our high tech graduates to get jobs from a high tech company after all. Here comes some more engineering grads making coffee at Starbucks!

  • by drfuchs (599179) on Thursday December 27, 2012 @01:25PM (#42404719)
    It's simply the jury's emotional response to the death of Peter Parker.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Have you ever designed a board with Marvell chips? They require signing of an NDA by a manager before you can even look at the "personalized" watermarked datasheets. They are secretive with their products' technical data to the point of being weird. I guess now we know why.

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite. -- Bertrand Russell, "Skeptical Essays", 1928

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