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VLSI Technology v. Intel: patents from a portfolio valued at $7 million allegedly created $3 billion in value–will the jury buy that?

Another post, another dispute involving a non-practicing entity (NPE) financed by Fortress Investment. The previous post was about a couple of additional VoiceAge EVS v. Apple cases I just learned about. While Munich is the world’s #1 patent injunction venue, at least for the tech sector, the Western District of Texas is where parties go to seek Texas-size damage awards, such as in the second VLSI Technology v. Intel trial in Waco before Judge Alan Albright. That trial will continue on Monday.

It seems to me that many technology industry and patent professionals have sympathy for Intel because it already suffered so much last month when the first VLSI trial ended in a $2.2 billion damages award. At the same time, hardly anyone expects that first VLSI award to be upheld, simply because appeals courts typically reverse such decisions (sometimes reducing damages to zero by finding no infringement or holding the asserted patents invalid). For example, just yesterday Apple–Intel’s ally against Fortress Investment–convinced a Texas judge (Eastern District in that case) to order a retrial, setting aside a $506 million jury verdict. The only thing that is unusual about that decision in Optis Wireless v. Apple is that a judge from a plaintiff-friendly federal district in Texas did so. Most of the time, those decisions are made by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

On Monday, the parties’ lawyers delivered their opening arguments. In the meantime I have occasionally dialed in to listen to the proceedings. What I found very helpful and informative is a series of podcasts by Winston & Strawn’s WacoWatch blog.

I learned from the podcast that VLSI and Intel both act similarly to their previous courtroom clash, but obviously a number of facts are specific to this case. Different patents, different issues, and an even larger damages claim: $3 billion.

Jury trials are extremely hard to predict. A lot depends on whom (whose lawyers, whose witnesses) jurors trust. Patent cases are tough for juries though they are fun for some judges. Judge Albright is so eager to attract patent cases to Waco that he makes it very hard for companies like Intel to defend themselves. On Twitter, Mike Masnick (who also comments on tech law) pointed out that Judge Albright brags about the many patent cases he gets to preside over:

Mike Masnick doesn#t mince words. On Tuesday, he published an article about Judge Albright with the following title: Patent Loving Judge Keeps Pissing Off Patent Appeals Court, But Doesn’t Seem To Care Very Much (I’m just quoting–not endorsing–that language)

Jury duty is anything but rewarding, and jurors are really out of luck when they are selected for a patent case. Every time Judge Albright has fun, jurors lose precious time, for which they get paid so little it’s not even worth mentioning. A waste of time for jurors, whether or not their verdicts get overturned, but Judge Albright thoroughly enjoys those trials…

Intel has non-infringement as well as invalidity arguments, and VLSI can’t even count on the inventors of the patents-in-suit. The fact that the claimed inventions were originally made for an entirely different purpose may make jurors skeptical of the allegation that Intel started infringing those patents a decade later.

Not because I would predict it to happen, but because it might, the jury may have to think about the damages figure should it find one or both of these patents to be valid and infringed. VLSI’s damages expert arrived at a $3 billion amount. He basically concluded that the infringing products generated $4 billion, and then apportioned less than a quarter of that total value to Intel’s own work. Intel has tried–and will continue to try on Monday–to convince the jury that its own engineers created the products in question. If I were on the jury, I definitely wouldn’t conclude that almost 80% of the value is in those patents. Intel pointed out that one of the temporary owners of those patents valued that entire Freescale portfolio (which includes the two patents VLSI is asserting now, but also many others) at $7 million.

Just like in the previous VLSI trial, the plaintiff’s damages expert arrived at a huge claim based on what is called hedonic regression. Intel’s lead counsel, WilmerHale’s Bill Lee, asked VLSI’s damages expert a number of questions relating to the Georgia-Pacific factors, a framework for reasonable royalty-type patent damages determinations that isn’t absolutely mandatory, but it’s the safest approach with a view to appeals. It’s possible that the jury itself will attach importance to certain Georgia-Pacific factors. If not, the Federal Circuit might hold that Intel’s Daubert motion had merit.

Having watched how some other U.S. district courts handle patent infringement cases, I have serious doubt that VLSI would have been cleared by a judge to present its $3 billion claim to a jury in, for example, the Northern District of California.

For Intel, failure is not an option. For VLSI, this here is a gamble where the cost of suing Intel is a tiny fraction of the potential reward. I don’t mean to doubt that Fortress is very good at what it does, and my commentary here on VoiceAge EVS’s cases shows that I don’t generally discount anything Fortress does–one has to look at the issues dispute by dispute, case by case. But the prior owners of the VLSI v. Intel patents-in-suit were also very sophisticated organizations who were prepared to enforce their intellectual property rights through litigation. They didn’t sue Intel, much less did they believe Intel owed them billions.

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