Tech's Top 5 Patent Battles — Before Apple vs. HTC

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After six years of litigation and appeals that went all the up to the United States Supreme Court, both suits were dismissed; Apple's because it couldn't prove its claims, Xerox's because it had waited too long.

2. Is it Linux or UNIX?

In early 2003, an obscure software company called SCO, which had come into existence via a Byzantine series of mergers and technology sales, shocked Silicon Valley by announcing that part of its UNIX system code had found its way into Linux. SCO, which hadn't invented the code, refused to identify the specific segments of the software, claiming that it was a secret which they would reveal only to the court.

A flurry of lawsuits followed, including a $1 billion action against IBM (IBM), and suits against Novell (NOVL), Red Hat and Daimler Chrysler. For a while, there was fear that third party customers who used Linux could be liable for huge damages to SCO. There were allegations that Microsoft, in a truly Machiavellian move, had funneled money to SCO to help fund a lawsuit that would damage its competitors. Ultimately, though, the cases fell apart.

3. No CrackBerry for You

Hardly anyone had heard of a tiny Virginia-based company called NTP. That changed in a hurry when NTP, which held a basketful of wireless patents, brought suit against RIM, the inventor of the wildly popular Blackberry. A jury agreed that the patents were valid and RIM was hit for $53 million in damages.

Had it ended there, it would have been just another expensive lawsuit. But a judge then ruled that RIM was continuing to violate NTP's patents by operating the Blackberry data network. He could have issued an injunction to shut down the service. Panic ensued as everyone from Wall Street traders to senior advisers at the White House faced the loss of their favorite electronic gadget. Ultimately RIM settled for $615 million, one of the largest ever settlements in a technology patent case.

The NTP suit sparked outrage in many quarters at the perceived unfairness of the patent system. However, in a more recent patent case known as eBay (EBAY) vs. MercExchange, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling making it less likely that a patent holder could win an injunction to shut down the business of a patent violator, says Michael Sacksteder, a patent attorney with Fenwick & West.

4. Chips Ahoy

Intel and a workstation maker called Integraph tangled in a complex series of patent lawsuits beginning in 1997. Integraph claimed that Intel, the world's larger microprocessor maker, had stolen key features of its Clipper chip. One settlement, which that involved memory design, cost Intel about $300 million. A second alleged infringement involving a microprocessor instruction set known as VLIW was settled for $225 million. Brookwood notes that the settlement was more money than anyone ever made bringing that technology to market. At $525 million, the Integraph litigation resulted in the largest set of damages ever won against Intel.

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