Apple has gotten itself into a bit of a pickle.
U.S. District Court Judge William Conley pounded the gavel on Monday ordering Apple to pay $506 million to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).
This court order adds $272 million to the $234 million amount Apple already owed WARF from a separate verdict in late 2015.
And so the questions roll in. What is WARF and what on earth did Apple do to owe it so much money?
In short, WARF is a patent licensing part of the University of Wisconsin. WARF’s vision is to “enable University of WisconsinMadison research to solve the worlds problems,” which it did when creating computer processing chips used in iPhones. The problem is that Apple never legally obtained the rights to those chips.
And now Apple is left with the task of writing a hefty check on account of patent infringement.
Back in October 2015, WARF argued that Apple had infringed on the Patent No. U.S. 5,781,752 held by WARF at a trial in federal court. This patent claims an invention that significantly improves the efficiency and speed of computer processing by allowing out-of-order execution of computer instructions with a data speculation circuit.
At the time, I was a junior studying conservation biology at the University of Wisconsin, which ranks sixth in the nation in terms of annual research expenditure at $1.1 billion. I had a lot of friends in computer engineering and the university was buzzing around the news.
UW is unique in the fact that students and alumni have more school pride than any other place I’ve ever seen. It’s hard not to be that way with an alumni community of over 400,000 and world-class research being produced two blocks away from your freshman dorm. So we all awaited the verdict of the case, hoping UW would best the world’s most profitable company and get some credit for the work being done there.
The verdict was a unanimous decision in WARF’s favor, finding that WARF’s patents were valid despite Apple’s claims otherwise. The result was that Apple infringed WARF’s patents with the A7, A8, and A8X processors used in iPhones. The patent expired in December 2016, but Apple owes WARF for all of the damage done prior to that time.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Gurindar S. Sohi and three of his students originally obtained the patent in 1998. Sohi has been granted eight more patents since then. He is currently researching the design of the highest performance uniprocessors of a current generation while investigating the architecture of a processor circa the year 2000.
And while Sohi isn’t done working with the iPhone chips, neither are the courts. Western District of Wisconsin Judge Conley recently ruled on post-trial motions in favor of WARF. Apple will most likely appeal the ruling and the case will be sent to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
I asked Jeanan Yasiri Moe, Director of Strategic Communications at WARF, for a statement regarding the trial. She gave some brief background into the case and said this: “WARF will continue to defend the work of the university researchers and WARFs patent in this case should Apple, Inc. file an appeal. WARF does not typically comment on litigation and will not plan to comment further on details associated with this case until the matter is fully reviewed and resolved in court.”
Apple did not respond to our request for a statement on the matter.
Research coming out of WARF is second to none, as Apple is clearly aware of. UW is a research university, meaning professors must do research on top of their teaching. And a lot of those professors work with WARF, too.
Here’s a quick list of some of the incredible science WARF has brought the world: Vitamin D therapies that eliminated rickets, Coumadin (still the most widely prescribed treatment for cardiovascular disease in the world), and some of the first work with human embryonic stem cells.
WARF sits partially in the gorgeous Discovery Building a couple of blocks away from UW’s historic Camp Randall Stadium, which originally existed as a Union Army training camp during the Civil War. Students are welcome to study here, research labs are set up, and world-class technology is stationed around the building. There is another research building located by UW Hospital and the school’s outdoor track.
WARF is constantly working to advance discoveries that will change the world and to move the Wisconsin Idea a belief education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of classroom ahead. The goal is to transform the marketplace to benefit humankind both in Wisconsin and across the world.
There is no doubt WARF is top notch research facility, and anyone with an iPhone partially has WARF to thank for it. And while we’re all happy with our smartphones, Apple probably isn’t so happy with the huge lawsuit it has on its hands.