Much of the narrative about IP lawsuits carters around the separate and seemingly unequal systems of justice that exist depending on net worth. Bigger businesses with more resources can afford better lawyers for longer, and in many cases indefinitely, as in-house legal teams are a thing for those select corporations. Small businesses can struggle to put together a defense, and can only maintain it for as long as the money holds out, and so are less likely to get the outcome to which they are justified. IP lawsuits are a cost of doing business for some, and an existential threat for others.
Occasionally, however, you’re reminded that the big businesses can feel the pain just as acutely. As reported in Bloomberg, Intel might find itself on the hook for a $2.18 billion judgment after losing a patent infringement case in Texas over microchip manufacturing. The suit was brought by VLSI Technology, a concern that is not currently going, save for the efforts undertaken to bring the lawsuit against Intel. The $2 billion plus figure is orders of magnitude higher than the $2 million Intel’s lawyers argued that VLSA was entitled to, alleging that some of the work involved in the patents was done by Intel engineers.
Your judgment of the case may be colored by the fact that VLSI isn’t currently manufacturing chips themselves, or that the decision was handed down in Waco, a venue known as friendly to patent infringement cases that would be viewed far more skeptically elsewhere. Nor is the matter settled, as Intel are of course appealing the decision on the grounds that they feel it to be unfair and unjust and also $2.18 billion. In those aspects, it’s very much a typical case of a major corporation running into a potential troll on terrain suited to the latter.
Where it is worth thinking about it differently is in the amount of the judgement. It’s an eye-watering figure for any company, and yet it’s striking that it takes a dollar amount of that size to make you think that Intel might actually feel it. Smaller businesses are sunk by judgments that are fractions of a percentage of that amount, and yet those corporations often don’t hesitate to pursue specious cases for no other reason than they can, and choose to do so. Intel may not deserve the calamity they’re currently staring down, but neither did many small businesses, few of whom were able to appeal to forestall their end. So if you’re apportioning pity, save most for those companies that couldn’t push back.