Apple hit by lawsuit over Wi-Fi chips in bestselling iOS and Mac devices

31 May 2016

Apple and its leading Wi-Fi chip supplier Broadcom are being sued by Caltech for allegedly breaching patents in key iOS and Mac devices

Prestigious US engineering school Caltech is suing Apple and Broadcom for allegedly violating four Wi-Fi patents in some of Apple’s top products, including the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air and Apple Watch.

Caltech is alleging that Broadcom chips in devices from the iPhone 5 onward use technology that is a copy of Caltech decoding and encoding technology used to improve data flow.

The patents include US Patent No. 7,116,710, US Patent No. 7,421,032, US Patent No. 7,916,781, and US Patent No. 8,284,833.

Caltech is suing for damages and for a ban on sales of the hardware that contains the offending chips.

Lawsuit could affect Apple’s most popular products

This could be a pivotal case for Apple because the patents – granted between 2006 and 2012 – relate to IRA/LDPC codes that ensure improved data transmission rates in 802.11n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards that feature in most Apple products.

Caltech alleges: “Apple manufactures, uses, imports, offers for sale, and/or sells Wi-Fi products that incorporate IRA/LDPC encoders and/or decoders and infringe the Asserted Patents. Apple products that incorporate IRA/LDPC encoders and/or decoders and infringe the Asserted Patents include, but are not limited to, the following: iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5, iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro, iPad Mini 4, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 2, MacBook Air [and] Apple Watch.”

Caltech has called for a jury trial against Apple and Broadcom and seeks “adequate” damages that the court will deem “just and fair”.

Broadcom is one of the main suppliers of Apple’s Wi-Fi chips, making Apple its biggest customer.

Caltech alleges: “In 2012, 2013 and 2014, sales to Apple represented 14.6pc, 13.3pc and 14pc of Broadcom Corp’s net revenue, respectively… During this timeframe, Broadcom’s Wi-Fi products that incorporate IRA/LDPC encoders and decoders and infringe the Asserted Patents were incorporated into Apple’s key products including iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers… Broadcom and Apple are jointly and severally liable for infringement of the Asserted Patents.”

The case is the latest in a long list of litigation that Apple has become embroiled in lately.

In April, Apple agreed to pay $24.9m to settle a patent lawsuit related to its Siri, where it is alleged to have violated several patents held by VirnetX.

In 2015, Apple agreed to pay royalties of between $470m and $590m to Ericsson in a case concerning LTE patents owned by the Swedish telecoms equipment giant.

Apple products image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years