Apple Promptly Calls Out ‘Patent Troll’ After Trial Win

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Apple Inc., barred from calling its opponent a “patent troll” during a trial, did exactly that less than an hour after jurors found in favor of the iPhone-maker and rejected claims for $93.7 million in damages.

GPNE Corp. claimed as many as nine Apple products, including the iPhone5, the iPad3 and iPad Mini, infringe its patents covering wireless data communication in pagers. The federal jury in San Jose, California, arrived at its decision yesterday, in its second day of deliberations.

GPNE, based in Honolulu, calls itself a telecommunication research and licensing company with more than 30 patents covering wireless and wired data communications.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, said in an e-mail after the verdict that GPNE is nothing more than a “patent troll” attempting to “extort money from Apple for 20-year-old pager patents that have expired, wasting time for everyone involved.”

“Patent troll” is an often-derisive term referring to firms that acquire patents for the purpose of demanding high royalties or winning settlements from established manufacturers. Such firms have been the target of intense lobbying in Washington by technology companies looking for the fastest and cheapest way to dispose of such cases.

Frequent Target

Apple was the most frequent target of U.S. patent-infringement lawsuits last year followed by Amazon.com Inc., according to a May report by Lex Machina, a Menlo Park, California-based legal analysis company. Apple was sued over patents 59 times in 2013. Of the 6,092 patent-infringement suits filed nationwide, a 12 percent increase over the previous year, 10 companies -- all patent monetization entities or, more pejoratively labeled, patent trolls -— were responsible for almost 13 percent, according to the report.

At the GPNE trial, U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh prohibited Apple from referring to its adversary as a patent troll to avoid “unduly prejudicing” the plaintiff. She also forbade Apple from calling its adversary a pirate or bounty hunter or bandit, or likening GPNE’s lawsuit to “playing the lawsuit lottery,” according to a court filing. In addition, she banned terms including paper patent, shakedown, stick up and corporate shell game.

Koh permitted Apple to refer to GPNE as a company that doesn’t “make” or “sell” anything, a licensing entity or “non-practicing entity.”

‘GPNE Invented’

“GPNE invented its technology,” Kalpana Srinivasan, a lawyer with Susman Godfrey LLP representing the company, said in an e-mail.

Gabriel Wong, a New York University-trained electrical engineer and the chairman of GPNE’s board of directors, is an inventor who came up with the technology that is the subject of the patents in the Apple trial and attempted to commercialize it, Srinivasan said.

“It was a hard-fought trial,” Max L. Tribble, another attorney at the same firm, said in an e-mailed statement. GPNE faced “tough” interpretations from Koh on the meaning of the key terms in the patents, according to the statement.

The GPNE lawsuit isn’t the first patent case brought by smaller firms that Apple has faced down at trial in San Jose federal court this year. In July, it defeated a lawsuit brought by Emblaze Ltd. claiming the iPhone-maker pushed organizations including Major League Baseball to adopt its format for streaming live video, causing them to infringe a patent. A lawyer for Apple called Emblaze, based in Hertzliya Pituach, Israel, a “failed company” targeting the iPhone-maker due to its success.

June Trial

In June, Apple beat back yet another patent claim over technology in wireless networks from Golden Bridge Technology Inc.

GPNE sent more than 300 letters in the past year to companies including truckers, farmers, roofers and dairies threatening costly litigation if they didn’t license its technology, according to Apple.

“Apple invents products that revolutionize industries, and relies upon the U.S. patent system to protect our innovation,” Huguet said in the e-mail. “We urge congressional leaders to continue focusing on reform in this important area of patent law.”

The case is GPNE Corp. v. Apple Inc., 12-cv-02885, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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