Apple and Intel this week filed a new lawsuit against Fortress Investment Group, a patent assertion entity controlled by SoftBank, in response to patent infringement lawsuits brought by the firm against the two technology giants in recent years. The companies are accusing Fortress of anticompetitive stockpiling of patents in a bid to enforce them, and have asked the court to ‘remedy the harms that they had already suffered’ from Fortress and unravel Fortress’s operations.

Intel already filed a lawsuit against Fortress in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California back in October. In that lawsuit, Intel contested the legality of Fortress’s massive patent aggregation business through a network of patent assertion entities (PAEs) in a bid to license them (usually in packages) to Intel and other high-tech companies. In particular, Intel said that it had to license patents originally owned by NXP Semiconductors after the latter were acquired by Fortress. That lawsuit has since been withdrawn, and replaced with the new lawsuit from Intel and Apple.

The new lawsuit filed by the two companies in the same court makes the same accusations, but mentions a different set of patents, which includes patents originally issued to companies like Philips, Huawei, Panasonic, Seven Networks, and Nokia. Apple claims that so far PAEs associated with Fortress have filed 25 lawsuits against the company demanding $2.6 – $5.1 billion in damages. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs note, just one of Fortress’s PAEs — Uniloc — has been a plaintiff in more than 130 patent infringement cases since February 2013, so the scale of operations appears to be gargantuan.

Intel and Apple claim that Fortress’s patent aggregation business violates Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Section 7 of the Clayton Act (an antitrust law that prohibits mergers and acquisitions where the effect may reduce competition), and California Business Provision Code § 17200 (an unfair competition law). To that end, the plaintiffs ask the court to declare the business practices as unlawful, return royalties that Apple and Intel have paid to the defendant (and its entities), transfer all of the claimed patents back to the transferors, declare those patents unenforceable, and award to Intel and Apple their expenses associated with the lawsuit.

Teaming up with Apple against the patent trolls is a logical, yet a relatively unexpected move from Intel. Overall, the chip giant is leading a legal war against Fortress and the more allies it can get the better. Meanwhile, there are some hitches. Fortress is controlled by SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate which owns Arm. Meanwhile, Intel competes against Arm, whereas Apple uses Arm’s architecture in its SoCs, which makes the coalition look rather odd. On the other hand, the patents mentioned mainly cover telecommunication technologies, a sphere where Intel and Apple have interests, but not going to compete against each other.

Intel’s and Apple’s prayer for relief (for the Intel Corporation et al v. Fortress Investment Group LLC et al, case number 3:2019cv07651) reads as follows:

a) That Defendants’ unlawful conduct be declared a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1; Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 18; and Cal. Bus. Prov. Code § 17200, et seq.;

b) That Intel and Apple recover damages against Defendants in an amount to be determined and multiplied to the extent provided by law, including under Section 4 of the Clayton Act;

c) That all contracts or agreements Defendants entered into in violation of the Sherman Act, Clayton Act, or Cal. Bus. Prov. Code § 17200, et seq. be declared void and the patents covered by those transfer agreements be transferred back to the transferors;

d) That all patents transferred to Defendants in violation of the Sherman Act, Clayton Act, or Cal. Bus. Prov. Code § 17200, et seq. be declared unenforceable;

e) Award to Intel and Apple their costs and expenses associated with this case, together with interest; and

f) Grant such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper under the circumstances.

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Sources: Reuters,
Image Source: Quince Media via Wikimedia Commons

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  • peevee - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    "Patent troll" sounds terrible, but without them inventors get nothing as no individual inventor has resources to enforce their patents against the likes of Intel and Apple (and even patenting is very expensive, so for most inventors it is a losing proposition).
  • jeremyshaw - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    The inventors usually get little anyways - just their name on the patent. Ownership is a whole other thing.
  • twtech - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    The theory behind patents and the reality that has emerged are mostly different things. The concept of the small, individual, independent inventor is mostly a thing of the past.
  • evernessince - Sunday, November 24, 2019 - link

    Unfortunately but true. Just like how Intellectual property laws have been perverted to benefit big corporations. People don't seem to realize that the people protect corporation's IP and we provide that protection in exchange for that work eventually becoming public domain to enable a base for future inventors, artists, ect. Now though? Companies have lobbied for changes to the laws so that IP essentially stays out of the public domain for the life time of multiple humans. It used to be 20 years (which is more then enough time to capitalize on things you've made).

    In essence, the protection of IP is an infringement on freedom of speech and freedom of expression (no one can use those ideas during the period of copyright). It is needed but in it's current form it is utterly draconian.
  • RBFL - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    Typically they buy up patents of failed companies or looking at it in this case possibly patents of companies that have moved out of an area of business. They are usually marked by the fact that they make nothing except patent lawsuits and have no intention of ever using the technology. Thus patents are not to protect their line of business, they are their line of business.

    Mostly they go after smaller companies that are patent unaware and don't have the resources to fight the legal battles. Going after bigger companies is less common as they have big IP lawyer groups and will fight back.

    Since they produce nothing they have the significant advantage that the target can't hit them with counter infringement claims. For real companies this usually ends up in a cross licensing agreement.
  • azfacea - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    whats terrible is the level of dishonesty and fraud in ppl like you. inventors existed long before patents and exist today despite patents not because of them.

    all patents should be thrown into the toilet as unconstitutional and against the 1st amendment. the constitution does not permit such a thing as banning thought because some one else thought of it first. How can you tell a cancer patient you are not allowed invent a life saving drug because someone else invented that drug first and you have to die if you dont get a license. this is very different from copyright, in that case you have to show that some one stole your work. in patents you just show that its the same idea.
  • rpg1966 - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    That's one of the silliest comments I've ever read on this site.
  • Samus - Saturday, November 23, 2019 - link

    Just this site? This comment is worthy of a post on Yahoo Answers :)
  • Foeketijn - Sunday, November 24, 2019 - link

    That's because we are so used to patents we start to believe in them. I'm not in the anti patent camp, but I can see how not having patents would be an improvement. Even better If patents would have a short lifetime. Like 3 years for IT.
  • MASSAMKULABOX - Wednesday, November 27, 2019 - link

    No IP ? No copyright law ? that sounds a lot like shehnzen . Inventors(companys) need something... , else why do R&D? But then , will Musk, Bezos pay back the US Gov for all the free rocket tech they employ ..

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