Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation v. Apple Inc.

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation v. Apple Inc.

2017-2265, 2017-2380

Decided: September 28, 2018

Case Summary

Computer programs include lists of instructions that are written in “program

order”—and the instructions are typically executed in that order. In some

cases, a program’s performance may be improved by running its instructions

out of order. But this may also cause problems, such as when an instruction

later in the program depends on a calculation made by an earlier instruction.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation owns U.S. Patent No.

5,781,752, which covers specific techniques for running programs out of

order. Although the claimed methods are complex, the key dispute in

WARF’s suit against Apple relates to a claim limitation in which a

prediction is made as to whether—when a “particular” load instruction is

executed out of program order—problems will arise because that

“particular” instruction depends on calculations from another instruction that

has not yet been executed.

The District Court ruled that the claimed “particular” load instruction should

be construed to cover only a single, identified load instruction. Although

Apple showed at trial that its accused method associates predictions with

groups of load instructions (not a “particular” or single load instruction) the

Wisconsin jury found infringement, and awarded WARF more than $200

million in damages. The jury also rejected Apple’s effort to invalidate the

asserted claims; and the trial judge denied Apple’s post-trial motions to

overturn the jury’s findings.

In reversing the infringement verdict, the United States Court of Appeals for

the Federal Circuit explained that the claim language referring to a

prediction associated with a “particular” load instruction means that the

prediction must be associated with a single load instruction. A prediction

that is associated with more than one load instruction—as is the case in

Apple’s accused method—does not meet this limitation; therefore, the jury’s

verdict was not supported by substantial evidence.

The panel then turned to Apple’s invalidity argument; the key issue here

relates to the nature of the predictions made in the asserted method claims:

WARF argued that the predictions were “dynamic” in the sense that after the

claimed prediction (as to whether out of order execution of a particular load

instruction will create data dependency problems), events that take place

later in the program’s execution must be used to “update” that prediction.

The patent owner also said that although Apple’s asserted prior art reference

made data dependency predictions, these predictions were never updated.

The Federal Circuit agreed with WARF, noting that all of the disclosed

embodiments in the asserted patent described “dynamic” predictions that are

capable of receiving updates. And because Apple’s prior art reference only

described predictions that were not capable of receiving updates, the panel

affirmed the lower court’s validity ruling.

Download the PDF.

2018-10 Case summary of WARF v Apple 201
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