Is Apple stepping on a university's toes with its A7 processor design? The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) has filed suit against the company, claiming that the iPhone 5S, iPad mini with Retina Display, and iPad Air all benefit from an information processing system developed at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and patented in 1998. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and an injunction stopping the sale of any product containing the A7 processor without a licensing payment — both are standard requests for these lawsuits, although WARF is asking for damages to be tripled because Apple knew of the patent and therefore willfully infringed on it.
WARF, an independent group that acts as the university's patent enforcement arm, has a mixed reputation. Unlike a purely private "troll" that buys and sells patents for litigation, WARF specifically licenses inventions that were developed by university researchers. Nonetheless, its sizable portfolio and questions about the larger effect of its lawsuits on companies and other researchers led Business Insider to dub it one of the "most fearsome patent trolls" in 2012.
Whether Apple infringed on the design, and what the patent even covers, are both questions that will only be answered after a long process of discovery and argument. Apple, however, may well settle before that point. In 2013, it was one of several companies sued by Boston University, which said it held the patent to a display technology used in the iPhone and iPad. The university announced last month that it had settled with 25 of the roughly three dozen companies involved in the suit, and while it didn't disclose the licensing fee or mention any of the companies by name, Apple is believed to have been one of the ones that made a deal. This particular patent also has a track record of success: in 2009, Intel settled a WARF lawsuit involving it.