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CMU Settles Patent Lawsuit For $750M, To Be Shared With Inventors


Carnegie Mellon University will receive a $750 million settlement stemming from a patent infringement lawsuit against a Bermuda-based technology company that allegedly used a CMU professor’s data retrieval algorithms without permission.

Marvell Technology Group Ltd. will pay the hefty sum to CMU to resolve a 7-year-old legal battle. School officials said in a statement that a “substantial share of the proceeds will go to the inventors, José Moura, a professor in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Aleksandar Kavcic, a former doctoral student of Moura.”

Moura and Kavcic worked together in the 1990s to develop algorithms that allowed devices to sort through errors and other “noise” in order to retrieve digital data from increasingly smaller storage spaces. Moura said the idea was considered “pie in the sky” at the time, but it would later have a huge impact on computing.

In a video on CMU’s website, Moura said the patented ideas were applied to devices called detectors.

“Detectors means you need algorithms that, when the head of the disk reads from the disk an electrical signal, (it) converts that signal to a zero or one,” said Moura. “It says, ‘This is a zero, this is a one.’ … This is what led to being able to shrink the size of computers to your current laptops.”

Moura said the idea quickly caught on in the technology industry, after the patents were filed in 1999 and awarded a few years later.

“In the early 2000s, it became a must-have technology,” Moura said. “Sixty percent, at least, of all computers that were built in the 2000s, up until now, essentially incorporate this technology, this type of detector.”

As of 2012, 2.3 billion computers worldwide utilized the technology; Moura estimated that number is closer to 3 billion today.

CMU filed suit against Marvell in 2009, accusing the company of using Moura’s model of detectors without permission. The company sells chipsets – devices that control various aspects of a computer’s performance, such as graphics, audio and memory.

In late 2012, a federal jury in Pittsburgh awarded CMU $1.17 billion in damages; that number was later inflated to $1.54 billion by a federal judge. However, six months ago, an appeals court deemed that the damages were too high and that a new trial must be held to resolve the case. The $750 million settlement was announced late Wednesday afternoon.

In a written statement on the company’s website, Marvell officials said: “As of January 30, 2016, the Company's cash and short term investments exceeded $2.3 billion. Marvell had previously recorded approximately $388 million for litigation reserves in fiscal 2016 related to CMU.”

Carnegie Mellon president Subra Suresh said many on the CMU campus would like to dedicate the school’s portion of the settlement funds toward a reduction in tuition costs.

"There is broad consensus across the university that we should dedicate a substantial majority of this resource to helping qualified students afford a Carnegie Mellon education, helping all students succeed while they are here, and enhancing the student experience," Suresh said in a statement.

He said he’s formed a committee to determine how that might work.

CMU’s annual tuition and fees for this year’s freshmen living on campus totaled $65,895.