It’s hard to generate much sympathy for megacorporations, particularly at a time when they are bigger and more powerful than they’ve ever been, but there are instances where even they can garner something like sympathy among the broader public (or at least the public that follows intellectual property news.) These massive companies aren’t necessarily popular, to be sure, but less popular still are the patent trolls that are seeking to make their living through frivolous, baseless lawsuits.
And so when it comes to pass that a patent troll scores an early victory against no less than Apple, most people find themselves rooting for Goliath to win the fight. The troll in this case, Virnet X, didn’t win so much as Apple lost, in this instance its bid to have a $502.8 million judgment against them put aside in an appeal. Per Jonathan Stempel at Reuters, Apple had sought to limit the amount awarded to $113.7 million, and had pushed for a new trial, among other demands.
Notable among Apple’s claims is its protestation that jurors in the case, which concluded in October with a ruling in favor of VirnetX, should have been told of the USPTO “deemed VirnetX’s claims ‘unpatentable.” That would seem to be a big and weighty opinion that may have swayed the jury, particularly one that may not be well-versed in matters of intellectual property.
VirtnetX’s claims against Apple stemmed from its patents for virtual private networks, which Apple uses as part of its FaceTime feature on iPhones and iPads. It is at this point that I should note that VirnetX does not itself make any products that use a VPN, rather relying upon the awards from various suits to remain a going concern. I should further note that this ruling came in the Eastern District of Texas — Tyler, specifically — an area that is in competition with itself to see which particular court can be the most friendly to patent litigation.
As the story notes, Apple’s total outlay for the judgments could come to north of one billion dollars, which is a staggering sum to consider. Where the number loses some impact is in considering the judgments in relation to Apple, a company with $193 billion in cash on hand as of Q3 of 2020 to go along with its $2 trillion market cap. While it’s fair to say that the judgment against Apple is perhaps not fair, Apple will be fine regardless; where we should be concerned is for the companies that don’t have Apple’s resources who might find themselves the next target of patent trolls.