It has been nearly ten years since Apple and VirnetX first locked horns in patent litigation. VirnetX, a Nevada-based security technology company, holds patents for tech used in secure communications – patents that, VirnetX has alleged in proceedings against both Microsoft and Apple – were infringed by the former’s Skype technology and the latter’s Facetime and iMessage. However, while Microsoft settled with VirnetX in 2014 for the relatively modest figure of $23 million, proceedings between VirnetX and Apple have continued.

Matters came to a head in November 2019, when a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeal (Federal Circuit) ruled that, in light of other decisions, Apple would no longer be permitted to claim that VirnetX’s patents are invalid. On 10 February 2020, the full Court of Appeal affirmed this decision by declining to review it.

Despite the ruling, proceedings between Apple and VirnetX seem set to rumble on, with previous judgments in US courts having awarded VirnetX almost $1 billion in damages from Apple, notwithstanding the fact that that, back in 2016, the USPTO itself found that four of the contentious VirnetX patents were indeed “invalid”. Appeals relating to that decision are ongoing, with no final decision having been made by the USPTO. All of which means that, as things stand, Apple remains on the hook for a billion dollars to a company with only $1 million in annual revenue, and whose patents may well be “invalid”. Interesting times indeed.

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