A retrial of the patent dispute between patent licensing company Smartflash and computer giant Apple has been ordered, following concerns the damages awarded to Smartflash were miscalculated. According to District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, the $532.9 million in monetary damages awarded to Smartflash might have been derived mistakenly by a jury confused by instructions.
The original dispute began when Smartflash claimed Apple to be using 3 of its patents, all pertaining to ‘data storage and access systems’. The trial ended this February, with the jury finding in favour of Smartflash. The original damages covered usage of the patents in gaming apps available to iTunes, and accessed on devices up to the iPhone 5c, calculated from product sale royalties. Immediately after the initial ruling, Smartflash filed for another lawsuit including Apple products released over the course of the trial including the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2.
Smartflash are notorious for their litigation, the company’s sole industry being the ownership of 7 broad patents with which they approach major companies, in an effort to generate income via damages. Smartflash has come to be known as a ‘patent troll’ company, and was described by Apple in February as follows: “Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no US presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented.” With regard to Smartflash’s request for a percentage of product royalties, Apple lawyer Eric Albritton said “It doesn’t make a lick of sense […] People do not buy cell phones for the sole purpose of using apps.”
Apple’s dealings with gaming and patents haven’t been entirely negative in recent times, having won a patent for an unreleased Beats headset seemingly designed specifically for gaming. Apple have never directly involved themselves in the gaming industry, short of facilitating the use of games on their products, whether popular apps like Angry Birds through the App store, or gaming sites like Slotocash on the move. But this patent and the future of its development could mark a sea-change in Apple’s focus; the product’s implementation could further entrench gaming culture onto the mobile device by providing more opportunities for mobile gaming immersion.
These developments are likely to wait a few years as further research and development takes place; in the meantime, Apple’s immediate financial future is still somewhat in the balance. With the knowledge that Smartflash are prepared to push for upwards of $1 billion, this patent dispute isn’t one that’s likely to wrap itself up soon.