Chip maker Marvell battles patent case, hit by $1.17 billion fine

29 December, 2012 by James Niccolai, IDG News Service
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A jury in Pennsylvania has ordered chip maker Marvell Technology to pay US$1.17 billion for patent infringement in one of the largest awards of its kind.

The jury found that Marvell infringed two patents related to hard disk drive technology held by Carnegie Mellon University, court papers show. Marvell infringed the patents knowingly, the jury found, meaning the damages could potentially be tripled.

The jury reached its decision Wednesday at the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The award is one of the largest ever granted in a patent case. It follows an award of US$1.05 billion against Samsung earlier this year in a patent case over smartphones.

Marvell, which has headquarters in Santa Clara, California, could not immediately be reached for comment. The company has said in regulatory filings that it would appeal any decision against it.

As well as infringing the patents itself, Marvell was found to have contributed to infringement by its customers as well.

Marvell makes chips used in hard disk drives, wireless equipment and other products. Like other component suppliers, it’s financial results have been hit lately by the slowdown in the PC market.

Carnegie filed its lawsuit in early 2009. The patents cover a “method and apparatus for correlation-sensitive adaptive sequence detection” and “soft and hard sequence detection in ISI memory channels.” They are US Patent numbers 6,201,839 and 6,438,180, awarded in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

“We appreciate the willingness of the jurors to give us their time and attention during this holiday season to hear our case,” Carnegie said in a statement.

The case involved “fundamental technology for increasing the accuracy with which hard disk drive circuits read data from high speed magnetic disks,” Carnegie said. The technology was developed by Jose Moura, a professor in the University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Aleksandar Kavcic, a former student of Moura who is now a professor at the University of Hawaii.

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