In a surprising development, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Apple Inc. have ended a long-running patent lawsuit involving mobile networking technology over Wi-Fi.
The lawsuit, which began in February 2018, had resulted in Caltech alleging Apple and its suppliers Broadcom and Marvell had infringed on patents it held for wireless networking technology. Caltech had been pursuing the patent suite for more than 12 years, claiming it could date back to the work of Professor Tin Yeh of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The lawsuit, which had been filed in the District Court in Delaware, initially named Apple, Broadcom, Marvell, and Taiwan’s MediaTek, as defendants. Marvell and MediaTek, however, were later dropped from the case in June 2019 after settling out of court.
Caltech had said it was seeking large damages that would reflect the significance of the patents. In its original lawsuit, Caltech claimed the technology was used by Apple’s networks to improve the speed and performance of Wi-Fi connections, which it argued enabled Apple customers to access and purchase content and services more quickly.
The university had been looking to receive substantial compensation for the tech which it claimed could be found in Apple’s iPhones, iPads, Macs, and AirPods.
However, in a surprising move, Caltech and Apple have now settled out of court, avoiding a potentially lengthy and costly patent trial. The details of the settlement are confidential, but it appears to have avoided a potentially embarrassing legal action for Apple.
The settlement is a welcome surprise for Apple, which has been embroiled in a number of patent-related cases in recent years. The tech giant has previously been hit with hefty fines for infringing on Qualcomm’s patents in a major legal battle. However, this outcome offers Apple something of a reprieve from such costly cases.
Caltech also stands to benefit from the settlement, having previously refrained from selling its patents for fear that its technology could be “commodified”. A financial windfall from the settlement could thus help the university continue researching and developing new technologies.
In the end, the settlement appears to be a win-win for both parties, allowing Caltech to benefit financially when it could have faced an uncertain legal outcome, and allowing Apple to avoid an expensive trial and potential embarrassment for infringing on the university’s patents. All in all, it is proof that even in the maelstrom of patent litigation, it is possible for tech giants and innovators to find common ground.