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LEGAL ISSUES

Entrepreneur Wins $625 Million Payout From Apple

Yale University professor David Gelernter said Apple's software infringed on three of his patents. A federal jury agreed.

Andreas Rentz/Getty

David Gelernter of Mirror Worlds LLC.

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A small technology company won an eye-popping $625.5 million verdict in a patent infringement case against Apple.

On Friday, a federal jury in Tyler, Texas, found that Apple infringed on three patents held by Mirror Worlds, a company founded by Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter.

Apple is challenging both the verdict and the way the damages were calculated. If the $625.5 million figure is upheld, it would be one of the largest in patent lawsuit history.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, claimed three Apple software features – the Cover Flow flip function, the Spotlight hard drive search tool, and Time Machine, which backs up data – violate Mirror Worlds patents. The jury agreed, awarding $208.5 million for each of the three infringements.

In 1991, prior to the Internet going mainstream, Gelernter published a book called Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox...How it Will Happen and What it Will Mean. The tome laid out a vision of the future in which people could access masses of real-time, real-world data via their computers.

A decade later, Gelernter's company launched Scopeware, a cascade of on-screen index cards, each of which contains a unique piece of e-mail, a webpage, or a document. (Think, well, Apple Cover Flow.) The cards are shuffled and updated as cards with new information or documents arrive.

Scopeware is Mirror Worlds' first and only product: "a highly visual system that displays a line of documents and other items dating back (or forward) in time along with the option of searching these items to retrieve and edit them," according to the lawsuit.

Before the verdict was announced Gelernter spoke to the blog BigThink about the case: "[It's] not because of the money, but because of the deliberate failure to acknowledge work that we would have made freely available as academics. .... We'd like to see credit where credit is due." 

Last updated: Oct 6, 2010

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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