Patent Litigation in the News – About the Players, not the Issues

By: Dan Pierron

Carnegie Mellon v. Marvell recently received a jury verdict in the amount of over $1.1 billion from Marvell’s infringement of a CMU patent.  The stories involved with patent litigation are nothing new; comments on articles about this suit have included the usual arguments of invalidity due to overbreadth (which is to be expected with the technologies involved) as well as the patentability of the subject matter altogether.  However, I think another story is the relative lack of coverage of this litigation prior to the verdict, as well as the paltry amount of attention the verdict received when compared to the Apple v. Samsung trial.  Arguably, the merits of the arguments in CMU v. Marvell are juicier, with an email from an engineering of the defendant remarking on how advanced the technology embodied in CMU’s patent was, compared to the state of the art.  I mean, come on, it doesn’t get much better than that.  But where is the coverage?  I think disparity can largely be attributed to the lack of popular names in the title of the suit.

As another example, take the case of Monsanto v. DuPont.  In case you hadn’t heard (and unless you run in patent circles, odds are you haven’t), DuPont, one of the world’s largest companies, was ordered to pay Monsanto $1 billion in damages for infringing Monsanto’s RoundUp-Ready soybean patent.  Now, I grant you that DuPont for certain, and arguably Monsanto as well, are both more recognizable names than either of Marvell or CMU.  However, none of these companies have the caché of Apple and Samsung, with their deep roots in the hearts and minds of consumers.

What’s more, from my perspective, the findings of infringement in both the CMU v. Marvell and Monsanto v. DuPont cases will have much more significant effects in terms of impact on the consumer than the Apple v. Samsung suit.  The general consensus is that Samsung will have to make more effort in designing their products so as not to give the appearance of copying Apple’s design.  I acknowledge there are more issues to this suit, but in light of the continuing issue of validity of some of Apple’s utility patents, it is difficult to anticipate how enforceable they will be in the future.  In contrast, Monsanto maintains their well-documented hold on the soybean industry, and Marvell has its chips in an astounding number of electronic devices.  Time will tell what costs will be passed to consumers resulting from the findings of infringement in these instances.

And then there is the issue of that email in CMU v. Marvell.  It appears a strong case for willfulness by Marvell in infringing CMU’s patent could be made on the basis of that email.  If the judge agrees, CMU could be awarded treble damages, increasing the damages to over $3.3 billion.  While the ultimate number is unlikely to be that high, the fact that it is within the realm of possibility is amazing enough.  That is larger than the GDP of many nations.

And yet, the media coverage continues to be rather light.  I guess the moral of the story is if litigation involves people’s iPhones and Galaxy S IIIs, more attention shall be paid.

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