Google just settled its multi-billion dollar AI tech patent trial

 Google Cloud.
Google Cloud.

The hardware and software development company Singular Computing has received an undisclosed amount from Google in a settlement out of federal court in Massachusetts, bringing to an end the five-year long civil case brought by Singular’s founder Dr. Joseph Bates against the tech giant for patent infringement (PDF, hosted by The Register).

Said infringement pertains to computer architectures facilitating artificial intelligence (AI) tool development and the training of large language models (LLMs) invented by Bates, that he claims made its way into Google’s Tensor Processing Unit devices.

These initially powered the generative AI and smart chip features in Google Workspace, but have now gone on to become available for rent via its cloud hosting provider Google Cloud, as well as shoulder the workloads of the tech giant’s own data centers.

The facts were these

Of course, an out-of-court settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing in itself, precisely because such settlements are a means for both parties to avoid trial and, therefore, a ruling in either party’s favor. Google hasn’t made any statement to suggest wrongdoing on its part, so we know about as much as you.

Still, it’s clear Singular Computing has the advantage. As per the filing, Bates “pray[ed]” for the court to allow a jury trial and award damages” that were suggested in pre-trial filings (another Reg-hosted PDF, cheers mate) to be within the realm of $1.6 billion and $5.19 billion US dollars. That, ladies, gentlemen, and the self-described, is confidence, and it seems to have paid (!!) off.

From the case’s outset, Google denied knowledge of Bates’ three relevant US patents (8407273B2, 9218156B2 and 10416961B2) and the technology therein, which allows for many low-precision calculations per processor cycle, and “look[ed] forward to setting the record straight in court”.

Even now, Google spokesperson José Castañeda is tight-lipped, merely saying “We have always taken our disclosure obligations seriously and we will continue to do so.” That’s a very well crafted sentence designed to mean whatever you, the reader, wants it to, so we’ll leave that.

Less cryptic, however, is one comment made by senior Google scientist Jeff Dean, who, in an internal e-mail brought to light by Singular’s complaint, wrote to colleagues that Bates’ inventions were  “really well suited” for Google’s workloads. This, while definitely ‘rum’, to use the precise legal term, is still no admission: Google continued, and likely continues to maintain that no-one actually working on its TPUs had access to Bates’ designs.

Representatives for Singular have made no comment following the settlement. which truncated a trial expected to last weeks with prejudice, meaning that it’s extremely unlikely that the case can be filed again by either party for the foreseeable future.

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