Sony has been ordered to pay $18.5 million to Agere Systems, in a case dating back to July 2006, after a jury found Sony guilty of infringing on Agere's patent for a "wireless local area network apparatus." Even though the Japanese major was cleared of wrongdoing in seven out of the eight patents it was accused of infringing, Patent No 5,670,730 proved to be its undoing. According to its abstract, it is a patent covering "a protocol for labeling various types of data contained in a music chip."
Agere - which merged with LSI Logic in 2007 - was a company developing wireless data and public and enterprise networks technologies. They sued Sony in 2006, arguing Sony knowingly and willfully infringed on their patents and profited using their technology in Sony products. Sony, at the time, naturally disputed the claims, arguing they had the rights to the technologies from a deal they had made with AT&T and Lucent earlier. They even claimed Agere had obtained their patents improperly, and were seeking for the patents to be declared invalid.
Agere's original filing claims that Sony "committed acts of infringement by making, using, selling, and/or offering to sell products...including, but not limited to, various Sony Walkman models, Sony PlayStation Portable, and Sony Memory Stick Duo."
The jury that decided the case agreed, and found that Sony's PSP, mylo Personal Communicator, and Network Walkmans all contain intellectual property that infringes upon Agere's patent. Asked whether or not the jury had found "clear and convincing evidence that such infringement was willful," the jury answered, "Yes."
Clearly, the jury didn't see things Sony's way. But then again, it's hard to say whether Agere got everything they were looking for, either. They were originally seeking not just the profits lost due to Sony's patent infringement, but also damages totaling as much as three times the amount of those lost profits. It's unclear how much of that is totaled in the $18.5 million.
Although the quantum of punishment is the barest slap on the wrist to a multibillion-dollar company, intellectual property advocates consider it a victory in principle and a demonstration of how the patent system is supposed to work.