June 5, 2008

Cornell Wins $184 Million in Lawsuit Against Hewlett-Packard

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For the past two decades, Cornell has been embroiled in a tense legal conflict with Hewlett-Packard, Co., over a dispute involving HP’s use of technology developed in Cornell’s processors to dramatically increase the performance of their computers. On May 30, the jury hearing the case in a Syracuse court found in favor of Cornell, awarding the University $184 million in damages for HP’s violation of intellectual property.
The technology, developed and patented by former Prof. Hwa Torng, engineering, in 1989, allowed for computers to conduct multiple actions at once, thus increasing the speed of the computers.
“Dr. Torng made a true discovery when he made an identification that could allow computers to conduct several instructions at once,” said Thomas W. Bruce, vice president of communications. “Hewlett-Packard basically went and built a whole bunch of computers on this discovery in such a way that it was an infringement.”
According to Bruce, when Cornell learned of the infringement by HP, the largest maker of personal computers in the world, they spent several years trying to come to an agreement with the company before resorting to a legal channel.
“Cornell tried for a friendly resolution,” he said, adding that they finally decided to file the lawsuit against HP, in December 2001.
According to Newhouse News Service, the patent infringement suit, in which Cornell sought $900 million in damages, took nearly seven years of preliminary preparations before it could begin in mid-May.
The supercomputers built with Torng’s invention were used by the federal government to work on its nuclear program, as well as by Boeing to design and develop airplanes. Cornell claimed that HP earned $36 Billion from Torng’s invention.
Bloomberg News reported that HP said in an e-mailed statement, “we respect the jury’s decision, though we don’t agree with it.”
The award is the 10th largest in the United States and the fourth largest for patent cases, an outcome which pleased Bruce.
“Cornell is satisfied that it had its day in court,” he said. “Most importantly, we are satisfied because the decision is vital for universities to have the ability to advance knowledge.”
Despite the ruling, the dispute between HP and Cornell does not appear to be over. On June 3, the Ithaca Journal reported that HP had decided to file an appeal against the ruling, hoping to reverse the verdict.
Speaking to the Journal, John Allcock, an attorney for HP, said, “we obviously are going to be engaging in an appeal to hopefully get what is the true and correct result.”
However, Ed Poplowski, one of Cornell’s lead trial attorneys from Sidney Austin Brown & Wood law firm, told the Journal that HP was intent on “making things as difficult as possible.”
Cornell appears ready to continue the dispute as far as necessary.
“They have the right to appeal,” Bruce said. “ We expect this to go through the full appropriate legal system.”
Should Cornell end up winning the appeal, Torng will receive $46 million. He has said that he will donate at least 80 percent to a charity, likely one that is based in the Ithaca community.