Apple is getting sued, which continues to vicious circle of patent wars that has been raging across the IT industry. This time, however, it isn’t a patent troll based in Texas or some company with an obscure name who’s pure existence is to buy/hoard patents in order to force companies into settlements. The litigant in this case is the WARF, which is the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a group responsible for patenting and enforcing the patents of things invented at the University of Wisconsin. They will take professors and students’ work if they believe it to be patent worthy and apply for the patents in order to generate income for the inventor and the department responsible for the patent. There are other models of how WARF utilizes the funds from their patents, but they are widely considered to be a ‘Patent Troll’ because they are classified as a NE (non-practicing entity).
However, they have generated enough income from their patents that they have been able to donate $1 billion to the University of Wiscoinsin Madison. The Business Insider considers them to be one of the 8 biggest patent trolls in the world, according to their article with over 2,500 patents as estimated by PatentFreedom. Even though it seems bizarre that a university and their research institution are considered to be patent trolls. By the looks of it, I believe that the WARF is one of the few ‘patent trolls’ that isn’t really a patent troll. According to the WARF themselves, they are responsible for creating 108 companies and they have a $2 billion endowment that pays out around $50-$60 million a year to the university to pay for improvements.
The real truth is that WARF is effectively the intellectual property division of the University of Wisconsin Madison and if you think about all of the brilliant ideas that have been thought up from universities, it makes sense. WARF also makes it easier for students to start up their own companies straight out of school and has a multitude of success stories. Sure, they have a massive patent portfolio which they claim to be in excess of 1,500 patents with over 3,000 filed (but not necessarily granted).
They claim that Apple has infringed upon their own patent which was actually patented back in 1996 and pertained to the Table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computers. The WARF claims that Apple knowingly infringed upon this patent and that Apple’s own patents even cite this patent which gives it even more validity. The WARF claims that they were forced into a lawsuit because according to AppleInsider‘s statement from WARF, "Apple has stated that it is the policy of the company not to accept or consider proposals regarding licensing from outside entities like WARF for any purpose."
The foundation is seeking an injunction on Apple’s products that utilize this patent and to stop them from continuing to use this technology without an appropriate license. They are also claiming that they want monetary damages, including interest and legal fees for the knowing infringement of the patent. Sure, their novel way of doing branch prediction is unique to their patent, however, it remains to be seen if the court agrees with their assessment that Apple’s methodology knowingly copied their patented method. After all, Apple is no stranger to patenting software and taking competitors to court for vast sums of money.