Big relief for Qualcomm as provincial court bans sale of several iPhone models in China
Qualcomm has stated in an official press release that the Fuzhou Intermediate People's Court in China has granted injunction on its behalf against the import, sale, or offers of sale of older iPhone models in mainland China particularly the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and the iPhone X. The Court found that Apple had infringed on two of Qualcomm's patents that include the ability to "adjust and reformat the size and appearance of photographs" and "manage applications using a touch screen when viewing, navigating and dismissing applications on their phones". Qualcomm's Don Rosenberg expressed satisfaction at the verdict saying,
We deeply value our relationships with customers, rarely resorting to the courts for assistance, but we also have an abiding belief in the need to protect intellectual property rights. Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These Court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio.”
The dispute between Apple and Qualcomm is not new and has been raging on for quite sometime now. This appeal was filed by Qualcomm in China in late 2017 and the Chinese court seems to have delivered this judgement on November 30. Qualcomm sees this as a big victory but Apple told CNBC that it has already filed an appeal for reconsideration. According to Apple's version of the story, the ban is not yet effective and that it is applicable only to older iOS software and not to iOS 12. The latest iPhones such as the iPhone XR and iPhone XS are immune as the case was filed in 2017. Responding to this verdict, Apple said in a statement,
Qualcomm's effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world. All iPhone models remain available for our customers in China. Qualcomm is asserting three patents they had never raised before, including one which has already been invalidated. We will pursue all our legal options through the courts."
Qualcomm, however, has clarified to Ars Technica that the orders aren't OS specific. The court has also prohibited Qualcomm from sharing the ruling publicly so we really don't know what the actual terms of the judgement are. It must noted here that the Chinese provincial court is separate from the intellectual property courts in Beijing and a party can request a ban on the opponent unilaterally without the opponent presenting a defense. Qualcomm needs to file a complaint with the enforcement tribunal in order to enforce the ban, which is when Apple can appeal.
Reuters quotes Erick Robinson, a patent lawyer in Beijing, who feels that nationalism can influence rulings sometimes and since Qualcomm is a key vendor to many Chinese smartphone brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, and OnePlus, this factor is likely to influence Chinese court proceedings in this case.
Apart from the ban on iPhone sales in China, Qualcomm also requested a ban on iPhone sales in the USA late last year. Intel, too, got involved in the dispute as it perceived Qualcomm's tactics as anti-competitive and as a potential jeopardy to its modem business with Apple. Of course, Qualcomm hit back at Intel as well and even boasted recently that the Snapdragon modems are more reliable than Intel's XMM modems, but things got murkier when the leading SoC maker claimed that Apple owes it US$7 billion in royalty payments.
It remains to be seen how long these issues drag in courts and what kind of verdicts would other jurisdictions across the world deliver. Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 beat Intel's XMM 8160 for 5G deployment but in all probability, Apple would be veering more towards Intel's offering in future iPhones given the ongoing legal tussle with Qualcomm.