Qualcomm is about to enter another round of its legal battle against Apple. With a new complaint, the company is set to file on Friday with the U.S. ITC. In the complaint, Qualcomm accuses Apple of infringing its patents that cover various technologies that can extend the battery life of a mobile device and seeks to ban sales of Apple’s devices in the U.S with a limited exclusion order for non-Qualcomm baseband Apple devices, and a Cease and Desist Order for all infringing devices.

Back in January, Apple filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm and accused the company of overcharging for its chips and withholding a payment of about $1 billion in promised rebates, which is what Apple wants to get from its partner. Several days before Apple sued Qualcomm, the U.S. ITC charged the latter company with multiple antitrust violations, one of which was preclusion of Apple from sourcing baseband modems from Qualcomm’s rivals. In April, Qualcomm countersued Apple and accused the company of numerous wrongdoings, including interfering Qualcomm’s business relationships with manufacturers of Apple iOS devices as well as of artificially limiting capabilities of Qualcomm’s modem in the iPhone 7. In the new lawsuit to be filed on Friday, Qualcomm is accusing Apple of infringing six of its patents not related to wireless networks and 'is seeking a Cease and Desist Order barring further sales of infringing Apple products that have already been imported and to halt the marketing, advertising, demonstration, warehousing of inventory for distribution and use of those imported products in the United States'.

The patents in question (see table below for details) cover various techniques that can extend the battery life of mobile devices. The patents are not covered by any industry standard, are not essential parts of any devices, and all six patents were issued in the last four years, Qualcomm asserts. At least one of the patents covers an essential aspect of any modern mobile SoC (e.g., a GPU stream processor supporting mixed precision instruction execution) and it could be considered impossible to build one without infringing that particular patent.

Qualcomm claims that Apple’s iOS devices use the aforementioned Qualcomm’s patents all the time, yet the hardware maker does not pay any royalties. What is ironic about the lawsuit is that while it does not involve Qualcomm’s wireless patents, it seeks to stop sales of iPhones and iPads with modems that compete against those from Qualcomm, essentially forcing Apple to buy baseband processors only from Qualcomm.

Qualcomm's Patents Allegedly Infringed by Apple
U.S. Patent No.
(Year of Issue)
Name Abstract Description Qualcomm's Description
Programmable streaming processor with mixed precision instruction execution. Relates to a programmable streaming processor that is capable of executing mixed-precision (e.g., full-precision, half-precision) instructions using different execution units. Enables high performance and rich visual
graphics for games while increasing a mobile
device’s battery life.
Low-voltage power-efficient envelope tracker. Techniques for generating a power supply for an amplifier and/or other circuits. Extends battery life by building intelligence into
the system so the antenna is always using just
the right amount of battery power to transmit,
whether it be video, text, or voice.
Compact and robust level shifter layout design. The field of invention relates to a semiconductor device and methods of manufacturing a semiconductor device handling a plurality of voltage, specifically multi-voltage circuits for shifting the voltage level between voltage domains. Maximizes smartphone performance while
extending battery life by connecting high
voltage circuits and low voltage circuits with
efficient interfaces.
Direct scatter loading of executable software image from a primary processor to one or more secondary processor in a multi-processor system. In a multi-processor system, an executable software image including an image header and a segmented data image is scatter loaded from a first processor to a second processor. Enables “flashless boot” which allows your
smartphone to connect to the internet quickly
after being powered on, while extending battery
life and reducing memory size.
Power saving techniques in computing devices. As the name implies. Enables the applications on your smartphone to
get their data to and from the internet quickly
and efficiently by acting as a smart “traffic cop”
between the apps processor and the modem.
Power tracker for multiple transmit signals sent simultaneously. Techniques for generating a power tracking supply voltage for a circuit (e.g., a power amplifier). The circuit may process multiple transmit signals being sent simultaneously on multiple carriers at different frequencies. Enables a mobile device to send high-speed data
such as live video from your phone by combining
many lanes of traffic into a data super-highway
while prolonging battery life.

Qualcomm expects the ITC investigation to start in August and for the case go to trial in 2018. In addition to the complaint with the ITC, Qualcomm also filed a lawsuit against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California alleging of the same wrongdoings.

We have questions fired at Qualcomm and Intel and will update in due course when we get responses.

Official Qualcomm Press Release

SAN DIEGO, July 6, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Qualcomm Incorporated (Nasdaq: QCOM) today announced that it is filing a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) alleging that Apple has engaged in the unlawful importation and sale of iPhones that infringe one or more claims of six Qualcomm patents covering key technologies that enable important features and functions in iPhones. Qualcomm is requesting that the ITC institute an investigation into Apple's infringing imports and ultimately issue a Limited Exclusion Order (LEO) to bar importation of those iPhones and other products into the United States to stop Apple's unlawful and unfair use of Qualcomm's technology. The Company is seeking the LEO against iPhones that use cellular baseband processors other than those supplied by Qualcomm's affiliates. Additionally, Qualcomm is seeking a Cease and Desist Order barring further sales of infringing Apple products that have already been imported and to halt the marketing, advertising, demonstration, warehousing of inventory for distribution and use of those imported products in the United States.

"Qualcomm's inventions are at the heart of every iPhone and extend well beyond modem technologies or cellular standards," said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm. "The patents we are asserting represent six important technologies, out of a portfolio of thousands, and each is vital to iPhone functions.  Apple continues to use Qualcomm's technology while refusing to pay for it. These lawsuits seek to stop Apple's infringement of six of our patented technologies."

The six patents, U.S. Patent No. 8,633,936, U.S. Patent No. 8,698,558, U.S. Patent No. 8,487,658, U.S. Patent No. 8,838,949, U.S. Patent No. 9,535,490, and U.S. Patent No. 9,608,675 enable high performance in a smartphone while extending battery life.  Each of the patents does so in a different way for different popular smartphone features; https://www.qualcomm.com/iphone-infographic. While the technologies covered by the patents are central to the performance of the iPhone, the six asserted patents are not essential to practice any standards in a mobile device or subject to a commitment to offer to license such patents.

Qualcomm today also filed a complaint against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California alleging that Apple infringes the same six patents in the complaint filed in the ITC. The complaint seeks damages and injunctive relief.

Qualcomm expects that the ITC investigation will commence in August and that the case will be tried next year.

Related Reading

Source: Qualcomm

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  • SydneyBlue120d - Saturday, July 8, 2017 - link

    Thank You for your reply. So, is it Intel paying Qualcomm for CDMA IP in the 7560 modem?
  • id4andrei - Saturday, July 8, 2017 - link

    Yes. Also, Apple can use any brand of chip other than Qcom and that manufacturer will still have to pay Qcom.
  • melgross - Sunday, July 9, 2017 - link

    Guys, that’s not entirely true. Intel’s new modems coming out this year use different patents. Also, patents expire. A lot of Qualcomm’s patents have expired, or are about to expire. This isn’t a cut and dry situation.

    One problem with what qualcomm is doing is that they don’t license patents to chip manufacturers, they license them to the companies using those chips. And, they won’t just license those needed patents, they license a huge lump of patents, many of which may not be used in the device.

    A big reason why other chip companies have been behind is because companies like Apple, Samsung and others are already paying high license fees to Qualcomm. Since they would still be paying the entire fee, even if they used a chip from somewhere else that didn’t need Qualcomm’s patents, it makes it too expensive for Apple, Samsung and other to buy chips from somewhere else.

    This is one of the arguments Apple, and now Samsung and Intel are saying. They would be paying twice for the same thing. This damages Samsung’s and Intel’s businesses as well. It also makes Qualcomm an effective monopoly.

    We’re also seeing government around the world access Qualcomm as a monopoly, fine them very heavily for it, and are forcing Qualcomm to change their business practices. This problem Qualcomm has didn’t start with Apple.

    The recent Supreme Court ruling substantially weakens Qualcomm’s case.
  • melgross - Sunday, July 9, 2017 - link

    Samsung doesn’t really have much in modems. They would like to.
  • melgross - Friday, July 7, 2017 - link

    When did Apple “take on Google”? I’m sure we would all like to know about that. Apple did “take on” Samsung g in 31 lawsuits around the world, and won 28. Two of the losses were in S Korea, but so was one that they won, which caused major articles in S Korean papers all over, as it was such a surprise there.
  • coburn_c - Saturday, July 8, 2017 - link

    Apple maps and apple default search. I'm not talking about court battles I'm talking about Apple trying to cut any and every third party out of the iphone money train. No one eats but Apple at Apple's table.
  • melgross - Sunday, July 9, 2017 - link

    Apple didn’t take Google on in those areas. Google pulled their licenses from Apple and Microsoft for maps and You Tube. Why? Because thatvapple Apple and Microsoft had contained no commercials. Google is an advertising agency, and so came out with the new versions that had Ads. Both Apple and Microsoft had to discontinue their you tube apps, and use Google’s. It wasn’t a big enough issue to argue about.

    As far as maps went. In addition to pulling Apple’s license, they offered a new one. But Apple thought, and has stated, that Google wasn’t adding features to Apple’s version that they were adding to the Android version, and they were concerned it would fall further behind, si they came out with their own.

    Yeah, it had problems, mostly from the Tom Tom data Apple licenses from Tom Tom. But those days are in the past. Both Google’s maps and Apple’s maps are pretty much equal these days.

    As far as search goes, what are you talking about? Apple doesn’t do search. Google is the default engine for Apple. They also offer Bing, Duck Go Go, and others.

    Apple has over 2 million apps in their store. Google had said, every year, that they make more money off their offerings, and Ads, from iOS than from Android.

    You really don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • ZeDestructor - Friday, July 7, 2017 - link

    Qcomm is also a US company, so by your logic, they've bought the courts just as much as Apple.

    Should make for a nice, fair fight overall :P
  • melgross - Sunday, July 9, 2017 - link

    They never “took on Google”.
  • rrinker - Friday, July 7, 2017 - link

    Apple fanboys? Hardly. Best friend worked for Sony/Ericsson a ways back and has some good stories to tel about Qualcomm's BS.
    Like many of Apple's vague patents, some of these should never have been granted either. The whole US patent system is screwed up and this is just the latest example. 8633936 - really? Prior art ought to invalidate that one, surely processors were already using mixed instructions by the time they filed that. It's not THAT new of a thing. And 8487658 - would like to know what's so unique, level converters have been around from all the major semiconductor manufacturers for a long time now. And is Apple now fabbing their own support chips too? Because otherwise how can they be infringing on such a patent just by buying a part from a vendor other than Qualcomm? Does that mean if I use a TI or Maxim branded part in my project I too am infringing on Qualcomm's patent?
    The whole thing's a joke, this exploitation of the patent system, and all it's doing is making a lot of rich lawyers. Chances of any change are slim to none, it's not like the lawyers turned politician are going to cut their own gravy train.

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