The International Trade Commission in Washington, DC, will begin hearings next week on whether Apple infringed three of Qualcomm’s patents and, if the company is found of having done so, whether imports of iPhone 7 handsets with Intel modems will be subject to an injunction.
Meanwhile, the European Patent Office is currently determining if one of the patents in Qualcomm’s claim is invalid, which could tilt its lawsuit against Apple in Germany on the same matter with the same consequences. And then there’s the Chinese Patent Review Board which is now looking into the validity of Qualcomm’s three relevant patents at Apple’s request.
Bloomberg reports that Apple and Qualcomm are in the early innings of a extensive legal tussle stretching across 50 cases and six countries that all leads back to one question: does Qualcomm have an unfair competitive advantage for pushing potentially questionable clauses into licensing contracts for its modems? Will it need to begin charging lower fees for patents that many regard as essential to the wireless industry?
If all relevant proceedings go in Qualcomm’s favor, Apple may have to pay up to $4.5 billion in back royalties — around one-fifth of the semiconductor company’s annual revenue.
San Diego-based Qualcomm insists that it has been able to counterprogram the narrative on these issues.
“Initially, we found ourselves on the defensive, responding to the false narrative that Apple had seeded. Everyone knew Apple, and no one knew how much of Qualcomm was inside Apple’s products,” said Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s general counsel. “I believe we’re in a transitional phase where our story is now out there, where the facts are speaking for themselves.”
Apple has not spoken publicly on the issue, though through its legal filings, we know that it considers Qualcomm’s licensing negotiation tactics to be retaliatory to those who betray the supplier with “its entrenched monopoly” for a competitor.