Marvell ordered to pay $1.17 billion in patent case

The award to Carnegie Mellon University is one of the largest ever in a patent case

A jury in Pennsylvania has ordered chip maker Marvell Technology to pay $1.17 billion for patent infringement in one of the largest awards of its kind.

The jury found that Marvell infringed two patents related to hard disk drive technology held by Carnegie Mellon University, court papers show. Marvell infringed the patents knowingly, the jury found, meaning the damages could potentially be tripled.

The jury reached its decision Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The award is one of the largest ever granted in a patent case. It follows an award of $1.05 billion against Samsung earlier this year in a patent case brought by Apple over smartphone technologies.

Marvell said it believes there are strong grounds for appeal and that it will seek to have the jury's findings overturned.

As well as infringing the patents itself, Marvell was found to have contributed to infringement by its customers as well.

Marvell makes chips used in hard disk drives, wireless equipment and other products. Like other component suppliers, it's financial results have been hit lately by the slowdown in the PC market.

Carnegie filed its lawsuit in early 2009. The patents cover a "method and apparatus for correlation-sensitive adaptive sequence detection" and "soft and hard sequence detection in ISI memory channels." They are U.S. Patent numbers 6,201,839 and 6,438,180, awarded in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

"We appreciate the willingness of the jurors to give us their time and attention during this holiday season to hear our case," Carnegie said in a statement.

The case involved "fundamental technology for increasing the accuracy with which hard disk drive circuits read data from high speed magnetic disks," Carnegie said. The technology was developed by Jose Moura, a professor in the University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Aleksandar Kavcic, a former student of Moura who is now a professor at the University of Hawaii.

The award was against Marvell Technology and its U.S. subsidiary, Marvell Semiconductor Inc., known as MSI. In its statement Thursday, Marvell maintained that its products do not use the technology described in the patents.

"Marvell and MSI strongly believe the theoretical methods described in these patents cannot practically be built in silicon even using the most advanced techniques available today, let alone with the technology available a decade ago," it said. "Rather, Marvell and MSI use their own patented read channel technology developed in house."

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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