Key Points:

MICHIGAN - Juries in the US awarded US$1 billion ($1.42 billion) in patent damages last year, almost triple the 2005 amount, as technology companies including Rambus and TiVo stepped up their use of the courts to fend off competition.

The number of patent verdicts ranking in the top 50 jury awards jumped to 10 from three in 2005, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Total awards, counting just those of more than US$1 million each, rose from US$379 million the year before.

Companies are more willing to go to court to protect patents because the stakes are higher as computer and communications technology spreads, said Gregory Stone, a Los Angeles attorney who won a US$307 million award, last year's largest, for Rambus, a designer of computer memory chips.

"These are extraordinarily invaluable inventions," Stone said.

Rambus, based in Los Altos, California, won the verdict against South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor in April over patents covering dynamic random access memory. The trial judge reduced the award to US$133.4 million.

The US$1 billion in patent awards last year excludes the US$612.5 million Research In Motion agreed to pay patent licenser NTP in an out-of-court settlement of a dispute over Research in Motion's Blackberry e-mail phones.

TiVo won a US$74 million verdict against EchoStar Communications for infringement of TiVo technology that allows viewers to record one television programme while watching another. Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar, which denied infringement, has appealed.