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Apple has been instructed to pay half a billion dollars to 'patent troll' VirnetXReuters

Apple has been hit with a fine of more than half a billion dollars, after a court ruled it had willfully used technology patented by another company in its FaceTime and iMessage products. But despite $625m (£426m) being a huge sum of money, it would take the technology giant less than four days to pay off.

The iPhone-maker's first-quarter earnings report for 2016 revealed a profit of $18.4bn on $75.9bn of revenue. And since Q1 contains 14 weeks, this gives Apple a daily average profit of $188m, meaning that the fine equals an average of 3.3 days of profits. Alternatively, Apple could pay using the $216bn it has in reserves.

Clearly, this is not a big deal for Apple – but what about the company that could, if Apple's appeal for a mistrial is rejected, walk away with the money? That company is VirnetX, a Nevada-based firm widely described in the press as a 'patent troll'. VirnetX earns most of its revenue from licensing patents out to companies that want to use them. When a company buys a patent from it , VirnetX earns money for every product the company sells using the technology covered by the patent.

This is not the first time that Apple and VirnetX have met in the courts. In November 2012, a jury found Apple guilty of infringing four of VirnetX's patents, which covered technology used in iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad products, as well as its Mac computer, without permission. The company was awarded $368.2m. VirnetX also won a $200m settlement when it sued Microsoft for the unauthorised use of its VPN (virtual private network) patents.

Following the current verdict, Apple said: "We are surprised and disappointed by the verdict. Cases like this simply reinforce the desperate need for patent reform." VirnetX's lawyer Jason Cassady said: "The jury saw what we have been saying all along: Apple has been infringing VirnetX's patented technology for years."