The six patents in question were filed between 1992 and 1997, and all cover technology used in the SkyTel two-way pager network, run by Mobile Telecommunications Technologies (MTel).
Although some of them have since expired, the law allows MTel to claim up to six years’ back-payments for infringement that occurred while they were valid.
MTel had claimed in court that Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, as well as its Airport Wi-Fi routers, infringed the patents, particularly through the firm’s iMessage feature and its email apps. Apple disagreed, saying the firm was trying to claim ownership of everything from emoji to calendar invitations.
The awardof $23.6m was a tenth of what the firm was claiming: it wanted $1 for every infringing device sold, which would have totalled $237m, according to Apple’s lawyer Brian Ferguson.
“A damage award of $237m is not common sense. It’s not logical,” Ferguson said in court.
Last month Apple won a different case in California, which also accused it of using another company’s pager technology. GPNE had sued the firm in 2011 over two patents, and was seeking $94m in damages. Apple described it as a “patent troll with no active business other than patent litigation”, which had previously demanded payment from “everyone from truckers and farmers to roofers and dairies… Apple invents products that revolutionise industries, and relies upon the US patent system to protect our innovation.”
In the MTel case, Apple wasn’t able to paint its opponent as a patent troll. Also known as a “non-practicing entity”, patent trolls buy up broad patents and sue for payment, without making anything themselves using the technology. But MTel still co-owns and runs the SkyTel pager network, used by firefighters and paramedics.
Amongthe patents in question is one from 1993 for a “nationwide communication system” using base transmitters and receivers to broadcast messages throughout a wireless network, and one from 1996 for a “method and device for processing undelivered data messages in a two-way wireless communications system”.
With the precedent behind it, the next few months could be profitable for MTel. Samsung is also heading to court, accused of infringing the firm’s patents.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th November 2014 12.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010