After $625M Win in Apple Trial, Patent Firm Moves to Shut Down FaceTime
A company that persuaded a Texas jury to award $625 million against Apple for patent infringement is asking for more. It asked a judge on Wednesday to order Apple to shut down its popular FaceTime and iMessage features while the case goes to appeal.
If the judge agrees to grant such an injunction, it would force Apple (AAPL) to disable the features or else find a last-minute workaround to avoid the technology described in the patents, which belong to VirnetX (VHC) , a holding company with a small office in Nevada.
The patents in question include U.S. Patent 7921211, which dates from 1998, and describes a way to create secure communications through internet domain names. VirnetX acquired the patent in 2006 from another company.
News of the injunction push was reported by Law360 (subscription required):
VirnetX argued that although an injunction blocking Apple’s popular video chatting and messaging features, along with a virtual private network on demand feature, may seem like a harsh remedy, it is necessary because of the irreparable harm Apple’s infringement caused the company.
Courts used to grant injunctions as a matter of course in the case of patent infringement, but such orders are less common since a landmark 2006 Supreme Court case. Still, the possibility of a FaceTime shutdown adds to the pressure on Apple, which is already confronting the $625 million in financial damages – one of the ten largest patent verdicts in history.
Apple declined to comment on Wednesday’s hearing, but has told Fortune in the past that it believes the VirnetX patents are invalid, and the case reflects “the desperate need for patent reform.”
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The case has also brought renewed attention to the debate over “patent trolls,” a derogatory term for shell companies that do not produce useful technology, but simply make a business out of lawsuits. Media outlets have branded VirnetX a patent troll, though the company’s CEO recently objected to the label in a blog post.
Meanwhile, Apple got hit this month by another Texas patent suit in which a shell company claims basic features of the iPhone, such as the ability to make phone calls and send emails, violate its technology.
More broadly, a bipartisan push to address the patent troll issue flamed out in Congress. Currently, the tech industry is holding out hope for more modest reform through the VENUE Act, a piece of legislation aimed at reducing the role of East Texas courts, which critics say have created a cottage industry out of patent lawsuits.
VirnetX shares were trading below $5 on Thursday morning. They hit $7.31 after the February verdict against Apple, but are still far off their all-time high of $40.47 from 2012.