Last week Apple found itself on the receiving end of a damages claim that has the potential to give it a decent PR fillip.
Despite the fact it has been ordered to pay $234 million in damages to the University of Wisconsin’s research arm by a US court, it can still emerge with credit.
Unlike Apple's clash with its big name rival Samsung in court, which drove the Korean giant’s smartphone business into the ground, the US company has come out on the wrong side of this battle.
A jury has found that it breached a patent belonging to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), albeit not wilfully, in the development of its chipsets for the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2.
The tech covered by the patent helped Apple create more efficient processors.
Those damages may seem huge. But Apple’s last reported financial results saw it make a net profit of $10.7 billion in the three months from April to July.
The upshot is that Apple can pay this award and not hit its bottom line at all.
For its part, Apple says it will appeal on the grounds that the damages should be less substantial because the chips were used in devices sold outside the US.
It also claims it should not have to pay more than the $110 million Intel handed over to WARF in 2008 for breaching the same patent. That figure, though, was reached out of court.
The issue here is that Apple is not in litigation with a major corporation, but a research facility where it could gain much of its future expertise.
WARF isn’t taking this lying down. It’s suing again over breach of the same patent in this year’s A9 and A9X chips, found in the iPhone 6s and iPad Pro.
WARF gave $58 million in grants to the University of Wisconsin last year. If Apple fronted up, accepted its error and offered to pay these damages and an out-of-court settlement relating to the A9 case, it could have a feel-good PR story on its hands.
It can paint the money is being used to further research, turning what has been a bad news story into a good one. Apple funding research on US soil could be a powerful tale to tell.
Of course, this doesn’t factor in Apple’s notorious ‘never apologise, never explain’ approach to public relations.
The company rarely admits it is at fault and uses its army of lawyers to great effect to ensure its reputation remains brutal and uncompromising.
This case looks set to rumble on well into 2016. But rather than letting it, why not nip things in the bud and make it go away?
$234 million is chump change to Apple, but not to researchers. It’s time to give something back.