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Behind $234 Million Apple Suit, An Aggressive University Patent Office

Last week, a federal jury ordered Apple to pay $234 million in damages in a closely-watched patent dispute over technology used in processors in the company’s popular iPhone and iPad models.

The amount fell short of what was expected – up to $862 million – with the possibility to increase that amount if the company was found to have misused the patent willfully. Apple has said that it plans to appeal the jury’s ruling.

But the recipient of the windfall wasn’t a typical tech company or even a single inventor prevailing over a Silicon Valley colossus – it was the University of Wisconsin’s licensing arm, which asserted that it has owned the patent since a team of Wisconsin researchers developed the processor-enhancing technology in 1998.

The suit, which follows on the heels of a $110 million settlement between the university’s Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and Intel in 2008 over the same patent, points to what observers say is still an unusual outcome – universities prevailing over large patent holders such as tech giants, pharmaceutical companies, and other corporations that they argue can rake in millions from innovations by university researchers.