Sonrai Memory Limited v. Google LLC
- Filed: 02/23/2021
- Case Updated Daily
- Latest Docket Entry: 06/17/2021
April 18, 2021
This year is off to an active start for a web of Irish NPEs litigating former operating company patents picked up from various sources. In February, Sonraí Memory Limited began two litigation campaigns, a first hitting Oracle over a former HP patent (development work having occurred before the split into HP Enterprise (HPE) and HP Inc.) and a second accusing Alphabet (Google), LG Electronics (LGE), and Samsung of infringing one former Atmel patent and another patent originally developed at HP. Last week, the same Irish NPE added a suit against Dell (6:21-cv-00361) to the latter campaign, accusing it of infringing that Atmel patent, as well as two additional patents, also acquired through Microchip Technology. Meanwhile, Arigna Technology Limited amended its Texas complaint against a fleet of automakers to assert a second former Mitsubishi Electric patent, as well as to add GM as a defendant, and Solas OLED Limited has followed up its recent East Texas trial win against Samsung with a new suit asserting two former Casio patents against BOE Technology (2:21-cv-00121).
Sonraí Memory Limited
The patent now at issue across all four complaints in Sonraí’s second campaign (6,724,241) generally relates to a memory system that includes a “charge pump circuit for generating a charge pump voltage having minimal voltage ripples”. It issued to Atmel in April 2004, passing through Microchip (which acquired Atmel in 2016) to Sonraí as part of a 50-asset transfer in February 2020. The plaintiff accuses the defendants of infringement through the provision of laptops, desktops, and servers that contain a “SanDisk/Toshiba 64L 3D NAND flash chips”, calling out the Dell/EMC XPS 15 2-in-1 9575 in the new complaint.
Those same Dell products are also targeted with a second patent (7,436,232) that followed that same path into the plaintiff’s hands. Issuing to Atmel in October 2008, the ‘232 patent generally relates to a “clock repeater for regenerating a clock signal on a clock distribution line”. It has not been asserted against Google, LGE, or Samsung.
Sonraí’s new complaint debuts a second patent in the campaign (6,920,527), accusing Dell of infringement through the provision of laptops, desktops, and servers with SSDs including Silicon Motion SSD Controllers, naming in the complaint the Dell/EMC Vostro 15 5568 P62F. The ‘527 patent is broadly directed to a portable memory device, having issued to Standard Microsystems in January 2003. (Microchip acquired Standard Microsystems in August 2012.) It was one of the 50 assets moved to Sonraí in February of last year.
Those Microchip assets were joined in April of last year by 17 US patents transferred from HP Enterprise to Sonraí; the transacted assets are generally related to a range of technologies, including system firmware, memory systems, and microprocessors. Sonrai has since moved patents back and forth with sister entity Arigna (through nunc pro tunc assignments), which itself also received assets from outside the Irish assertion enterprise, through a February 2020 assignment of just over 30 patents from Mitsubishi Electric.
Sonrai’s earlier suits—against Oracle in the first campaign and against Google, LGE, or Samsung in the second—are all in the Western District of Texas, where District Judge Alan D. Albright has granted extensions of the various deadlines to respond to the operative complaint well into May or June.
Arigna Technology Limited
Arigna began litigating one of its former Mitsubishi assets (the 7,397,318 patent, generally related to a “voltage-controlled oscillator”) this past February in a single Eastern District of Texas complaint filed against automakers BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Nissan, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen. The plaintiff amended its complaint in March 2021 to assert a second of those former Mitsubishi assets (the 8,247,867 patent, broadly directed to a particular semiconductor device) and to add GM as a defendant.
All of the defendants are accused of infringing the ‘318 patent, while only BMW, GM, and Volkswagen are accused of infringing the ‘867 patent, with Arigna pleading that joinder in a single complaint is warranted because “each Defendant designs, manufactures, assembles, imports, offers for sale, and/or sells automotive vehicles and components thereof that incorporate the NXP Semiconductors MR2001 chip package”.
Early housekeeping issues (notices of attorney appearances and extensions of the deadline to respond to the amended complaint) have dominated the docket since.
Solas OLED Limited
Meanwhile, Solas OLED continues to file new lawsuits in the display panel campaign begun in 2019 over patents received from either Microchip or Casio. The most recent defendant is BOE Technology (2:21-cv-00121), sued in the Eastern District of Texas, where in early March a jury returned a $62.7M verdict against Samsung in a case filed by Solas OLED. 2021 has seen multiple dismissals in cases in this campaign, brought earlier against Apple, Dell, Lenovo (Motorola Mobility), and LGE, with a case against HP dismissed without prejudice last August.
As covered in more detail here, in January 2021 BOE Technology ended separate litigation, begun last summer, over display panels provided for Motorola Mobility devices. The plaintiff there was “Japan-based research and development company” Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., Ltd. (SEL), which has kept its campaign alive after BOE Technology’s exit with a second suit, recently filed against TCL.
More on this Web of Irish NPEs
These NPEs are backed by the hedge fund Magnetar Capital, with connections to still more Irish entities, including Data Scape Limited (litigating patents originating with Sony), Neodrón Limited (asserting patents received from Microchip) and Scramoge Technology Limited, which received over 120 US patent assets from LG Innotek in February of this year. A closer look at these NPEs’ corporate ties can be found at “More Hedge Fund-Backed Irish NPEs Launch US Litigation” (February 2021).
February 26, 2021
Last July, RPX flagged public records indicating that a growing web of Irish NPEs with ties to Magnetar Capital—a hedge fund with $12.3B in assets under management—were acquiring patents from major operating companies. This past month saw two of those NPEs—Arigna Technology Limited and Sonraí Memory Limited—launch their first campaigns, wielding former HP Enterprise (HPE), Mitsubishi, or Microchip (Atmel) patents in suits targeting automakers and device makers. Meanwhile, USPTO records indicate that yet more well-funded Irish NPEs are waiting in the wings—some with former operating company portfolios already in hand.
Litigation filed by Arigna Technology Limited…
Formed in late 2019, Arigna Technology waited well over a year to file its first suit, hitting BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Nissan, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen in a February 18 complaint filed in the Eastern District of Texas (2:21-cv-00054). The defendants are accused of infringement through provision of vehicles that incorporate the NXP MR2001 radar transceiver. A single patent, generally related to a “voltage-controlled oscillator”, is asserted.
Arigna received that patent directly from Mitsubishi in a February 2020 assignment involving over 30 US patents. The NPE has also since received a portfolio of nine US patents, all developed by Microchip (or subsidiary Atmel), from sister NPE Sonraí Memory, suggesting that at least one additional campaign may be in Arigna’s litigation hopper.
…and Sonraí Memory Limited…
Also formed in 2019, Sonraí Memory kicked off its first campaign with a February 2 suit against Oracle in the Western District of Texas (6:21-cv-00116), accusing the defendant of infringing a single patent, developed by HP (before the company split into HPE and HP Inc.), through provision of “servers including Oracle SPARC processors”, including “T8 servers comprising M8 SPARC processors”. The asserted patent is broadly directed to transferring a portion of data in uncompressed form on a first memory bus and another portion in compressed form on a second memory bus.
The start of a second campaign followed shortly thereafter, with Sonraí suing each of Google (6:21-cv-00167), LG Electronics (LGE) (6:21-cv-00168), and Samsung (6:21-cv-00169) on February 23, all in the Western District of Texas, over the provision of certain smartphones that “contain . . . at least one Hexagon DSP” and that include “SanDisk/Toshiba 64L 3D NAND flash chips”. Two patents are asserted against each defendant: one originating with Atmel generally related to a memory system that includes a “charge pump circuit for generating a charge pump voltage having minimal voltage ripples”; the other originating with HP and generally related to a system with a single-die, multiprocessor chip that runs multiple operating systems.
In April of last year, HPE assigned 17 US patents to Sonraí Memory; the transacted assets generally related to a range of technologies, including system firmware, memory systems, and microprocessors. Those assets joined other patents, assigned in early February 2020 by Microchip (and subsidiaries Atmel and Microsemi) to Sonraí Memory and broadly concerning memory devices, various circuit elements, chip configurations, and die fabrication, among other related subject matter.
…with more litigation on the horizon
Irish corporate records identify James Prusko, a senior portfolio manager at Magnetar Capital, as a director of Arigna and Sonraí Memory. Prusko serves in the same capacity for at least five additional Irish NPEs, three of which (Data Scape Limited, Neodrón Limited, and Solas OLED Limited) have ongoing litigation campaigns and two of which (Arís Technologies Limited and Scramoge Technology Limited) have yet to file litigation.
While currently available USPTO records do not yet reflect any patent assignments to Arís Technologies, earlier this month, Scramoge Technology received over 120 US patent assets from LG Innotek.
Each of the NPEs listed above identifies as directors Ciaran O’Gara, Sean O’Sullivan, and attorneys Gerald Padian and Richard G. Tashjian. Padian and Tashjian are well known for their formation of Realtime Data LLC (RTD) and its parent Realtime Data Compression Systems, Inc., both New York entities. RTD began a litigation campaign in 2008 that has sprawled across the intervening decade, through various district courts and more than one trial. An entry point for background concerning RTD’s campaign can be found here.
Corporate records also identify O’Gara, O’Sullivan, and Padian as directors of Atlantic IP Services Limited, an entity formed in Ireland in September 2019; Atlantic IP Services, LLC, an entity formed in New York in February 2019, is identified in public records as holding shares in what appears to be its Irish counterpart. On its website, Atlantic IP Services describes itself as a Dublin-based firm “focused on patent monetization, from patent review, selection, drafting, valuation and acquisition financing, to all phases of licensing from market studies, teardowns, negotiations and, when necessary, litigation”.
The sale of patents by operating companies fueled yet more NPE litigation in 2020—a trend that may accelerate as more businesses turn to their patent portfolios for revenue due to economic pressure caused by the pandemic. Current economic conditions have also played a part in litigation finance’s explosive growth.
With interest rates exceedingly low and the markets volatile, wealthy investors—including hedge funds and private equity firms—are seeking out alternative asset classes, including litigation finance, as a source of high returns that are uncorrelated with global equity and fixed income investments. These investors are reportedly flooding the litigation finance industry with capital, and in turn, making nonrecourse funding more available for litigants—including patent plaintiffs.
The IP market flush with former operating company patents, and with third-party funding increasingly widespread, the economic risk of NPE litigation may be the same as it was when filings were at peak levels—or, as discussed here, even higher.