It’s Qualcomm 1, Apple 1 in the latest installment of the pair’s bitter patent bust-up — the litigious IP infringement claim saga that also combines a billion-dollar royalties suit filed by Cupertino alleging that the mobile chipmaker’s licensing terms are unfair.
The iPhone maker filed against Qualcomm on the latter front two years ago and the trial is due to kick off next month. But a U.S. federal court judge issued a bracing sharpener earlier this month, in the form of a preliminary ruling — finding Qualcomm owes Apple nearly $1 billion in patent royalty rebate payments. So that courtroom looks like one to watch for sure.
Yesterday’s incremental, two-fold development in the overarching saga relates to patent charges filed by Qualcomm against Apple back in 2017, via complaints to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in which it sought to block domestic imports of iPhones.
In an initial determination on one of these patent complaints published yesterday, an ITC administrative law judge found Apple violated one of Qualcomm’s patents — and recommended an import ban.
Though Apple could (and likely will) request a review of that non-binding decision.
Related: A different ITC judge found last year that Apple had violated another Qualcomm patent but did not order a ban on imports — on “public interest” grounds.
ITC staff also previously found no infringement of the very same patent, which likely bolsters the case for a review. (The patent in question, U.S. Patent No. 8,063,674, relates to “multiple supply-voltage power-up/down detectors.”)
Then, later yesterday, the ITC issued a final determination on a second Qualcomm v Apple patent complaint — finding no patent violations on the three claims that remained at issue (namely: U.S. Patent No. 9,535,490; U.S. Patent No. 8,698,558; and U.S. Patent No. 8,633,936), terminating its investigation.
Qualcomm said it intends to appeal.
The mixed bag of developments sit in the relatively “minor battle” category of this slow-motion high-tech global legal war (though, of the two, the ITC’s final decision looks more significant), along with the outcome of a jury trial in San Diego earlier this month, which found in Qualcomm’s favor over some of the same patents the ITC cleared Apple of infringing.
Reuters reports the chipmaker has cited the contradictory outcome of the earlier jury trial as grounds to push for a “reconsideration” of the ITC’s decision.
“The Commission’s decision is inconsistent with the recent unanimous jury verdict finding infringement of the same patent after Apple abandoned its invalidity defense at the end of trial,” Qualcomm said in a statement. “We will seek reconsideration by the Commission in view of the jury verdict.”
Albeit, given the extreme complexities of chipset component patent suits, it’s not really surprising a jury might reach a different outcome to an ITC judge.
In the other corner, Apple issued its now customary punchy response statement to the latest developments, swinging in with: “Qualcomm is using these cases to distract from having to answer for the real issues, their monopolistic business practices.”
Safe to say, the litigious saga continues. And iPhones continue being sold in the U.S.
Other notable (but still only partial) wins for Qualcomm include a court decision in China last year ordering a ban on iPhone sales in the market — which Apple filed an appeal to overturn. So no China iPhone ban yet.
And an injunction ordered by a court in Germany forced Apple to briefly pull certain iPhone models from sale in its own stores in January. By February the models were back on its shelves — albeit now with Qualcomm not Intel chips inside.
But it’s not all been going Qualcomm’s way in Germany. Also in January, another court in the country dismissed a separate patent claim as groundless.
A decision is also still pending in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case against Qualcomm.
In that suit the chipmaker is accused of operating a monopoly and forcing exclusivity from Apple while charging “excessive” licensing fees for standards-essential patents. The trial wrapped up in January and is pending a verdict.