A Texas jury has ordered Intel to pay $ 2.18 billion in damages for infringing two patents. The lawsuit was filed by VLSI Technology LLC, a 4-year-old company that, according to Intel, has no products or sources of income other than patent litigation.
The patents at issue in this case were previously owned by NXP Semiconductors, a Dutch company that was spun off from Philips in 2006. NXP acquired the patents when it bought Freescale Semiconductor (itself a Motorola spin-off) in 2015. Intel's attorney told jurors that NXP would get a portion of the proceeds from the lawsuit.
The two patents focus on methods of minimizing the power consumption of computer chips. One way to do this is to vary the system voltage: set a higher voltage when high power is required, then lower the voltage to save power afterward. One patent claims the concept of storing information about the minimum voltage of a memory chip in non-volatile memory so that the system can ensure that the memory circuit has a sufficiently high voltage.
The other patent from VLSI focuses on changing clock frequencies as an energy saving technique. Again, increasing the clock frequency of an electric bus can increase system performance but use more power. NXP's second patent is based on the idea that a device on a bus can request a change in clock frequency when it needs faster performance.
In the process, Intel argued that it did not copy these techniques from NXP or Freescale and that Intel actually invented its own, more sophisticated techniques to achieve these goals. But a jury in Waco, Texas, was not convinced.
Intel had tried to postpone the trial, arguing in a federal appeals court that COVID-19 rates in the Waco area were too high to hold the trial safely. The company also argued that it would be better to hold the trial in Austin, where Intel has a campus. After the Austin courtroom closed, Judge Alan Albright decided to take the case to Waco. In January, the Federal Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead.
The case is not over yet. Intel can request the judge to determine that the jury misapplied the law. If that fails, Intel has the option to appeal the case. If the judgment is upheld, it would be one of the largest patent judgments in US history.