At least one of Sprint’s long-running patent disputes came to an end on Friday, March 3rd, with a Kansas City jury concluding that Time Warner Cable owes the mobile network carrier nearly $140 million in damages. The court found that not only did Time Warner infringe on the VoIP patent in question but that the company did so “willfully.” That Time Warner willfully broke the law adds a level of legal intent, which can increase the amount awarded to Sprint in damages by as much as three times. While the case was not Sprint’s only ongoing legal battle, actually representing just one of four cases pending regarding VoIP usage, the language used does signify a significant win. Each of the cases was started back in 2011, with Sprint alleging that the companies infringed on a total of 12 separate VoIP patents.
In addition to Sprint’s other ongoing cases, Time Warner Cable is reportedly still “considering its options.” If the case goes back to court, it would not be the first time that a ruling either in favor of or against the carrier went back to court to be overturned. Sprint has an ongoing case against Cox Communications which has been overturned at least twice and yet another case against Cable One which is currently in limbo under a court-ordered “stay.” Furthermore, the network provider has a trial against Comcast Cable Communications that is set to start within the week, concerning similar patent disputes. The Comcast trial will be overseen by the same judge who handled the Time Warner case according to the court’s records, but Comcast actually won a counter suit against Sprint in 2014. That earlier ruling may or may not have any bearing on the upcoming litigation.
What the back-and-forth surrounding some of those cases really highlights just how muddy patent law can be. Patent lawsuits and other claims regarding stolen technologies are not uncommon among tech companies, which is partly because patents are generally written to cover as much as is legally possible for one to cover. With the near-constant progress of mobile networking and associated technologies, it is also very unlikely that the related patent disputes will ever stop. In the meantime, though, Sprint can tally up at least one big win for itself.