Stuart Freen is a J.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
A Texas jury awarded $625.5 million in damages against Apple Inc. on October 1st, finding that the computer giant wilfully infringed three patents with its Spotlight, Time Machine, and Cover Flow software. The patents were held by Mirror Worlds, a corporation founded by Yale University computer science Professor David Gelernter. The verdict marks the fourth largest patent infringement award in U.S. history and the second largest jury award of any kind this year.
The patents all relate to how digital documents are displayed in computer user interfaces. Cover Flow is a 3D user interface used for displaying album art on Macs, iPods and iPads. Spotify is a desktop search application for Macs, while Time Machine is a backup utility. Apple has moved to stay the verdict, arguing that Mirror Worlds’ counsel gave erroneous instructions to the jury for calculating damages. Apple submits that the award “triple-dips” on damages by awarding a full $208.5 million per infringement. Furthermore, Apple argues there were unresolved issues that should have been addressed before the jury was sent to deliberate.
The verdict is especially noteworthy for its finding of wilful infringement. Under United States law a finding of wilful (or intentional) infringement is punishable by treble damages, explaining in part the enormous jury award in this case. Treble damages typically arise when a defendant is sent advance notice of a patent but nevertheless proceeds with its infringing activity anyway. The New York Times notes that while Professor John F. Duffy was surprised by the verdict, he deemed the wilful infringement finding particularly “jarring.”