Google faces $1.7 billion lawsuit over AI chips patent infringement

A computer scientist, Joseph Bates, has filed a lawsuit against Google claiming that the internet giant should pay $1.67 billion for using his innovations to develop processors for AI-related tasks.

In response to the lawsuit, Google appeared before a federal jury in Boston and claimed that the company’s scientists on staff had developed the chips in question independently, according to a Reuters report.

Bates — the founder of Singular Computer — was represented by a lawyer named Kerry Timbers who argued that Google had duplicated Bates’ efforts after meeting him multiple times between 2010 and 2014 to discuss ideas that were key to solving challenges around artificial intelligence.

Timbers further said that Bates’ innovations were used to build Google’s Tensor Processing Units (TPUs), which form the bedrock of all AI features currently being made available across Google Search, Gmail, Google Translate, and other Google services.

Bates’ suit claims that Google’s TPUs, specifically version 2 and 3 introduced in 2017 and 2018 respectively, violate his patent rights.

The lawsuit brought by Bates also cites internal emails that show Google’s top scientist Jeff Dean saying that Bates’ innovations were “really well suited” for Google’s technology development efforts.

A separate email quotes another employee saying that then Google staffers were “quite corrupted by Joe’s ideas.”

“This case is about something we all learned a long time ago: respect for others, don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, and give credit where credit is due,” Timbers was quoted as saying in his opening statement.

The lawsuit assumes significance as the proliferation of generative AI has forced technology giants including Google to develop its own chips for AI-related workloads. IBM, AWS, and Microsoft also have developed their own AI chips.Chipmakers such as Nvidia, Intel, and AMD are also iterating on chips designed for AI-related tasks.

The worldwide AI chip market size, according to xResearch, was valued at $14.9 billion in 2022 and is predicted to grow at a compound annual rate of growth (CAGR) of 40.5% to touch $227.6 billion by 2030.

This growth is driven by several factors, including the increasing demand for AI-powered devices and services, the necessity for faster and more efficient computing power to process large datasets, and the growing adoption of cloud computing and edge computing technologies, the market research firm said in one of its reports.

While defending Google, the company lawyer, Robert Van Nest, countered Timbers and called Bates a “disappointed inventor”, who was unable to persuade companies such as Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, and OpenAI to use his innovations.

Van Nest attributed Bates’ failure to use approximate math across his innovations that were more likely to result in “incorrect” calculations.

“Google’s chips are fundamentally different, fundamentally different, than what is described in Singular’s patents,” Van Nest was quoted as saying to the jury.

Google has further claimed that Bates and his company Singular had requested Google to pay up to $7 billion in monetary damages for the patent infringements before the trial began.

Google and Singular are also battling out a separate case related to the patent infringements that was heard at a US appeals court in Washington.

Anirban Ghoshal is a senior writer, covering enterprise software for CIO and databases and cloud infrastructure for InfoWorld.

Computerworld AI chips patent infringement

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