For better or worse, this decade has marked an explosion of mobile-related lawsuits and anti-trust actions across the globe. Now, that trend is reaching what may be its apex, with Qualcomm filing a countersuit against their increasingly distant customer, Apple.

This latest suit comes in response to Apple taking action against Qualcomm earlier this year in multiple forms. At the regulatory level, Apple has been levying complaints against Qualcomm for some time, providing evidence and testimony that is being used in anti-trust suits against Qualcomm, particularly the most-recent suit by the US FTC in January of this year. The crux of the regulatory suits has been over Qualcomm’s patent and technology licensing business, and whether the company was refusing to follow FRAND policies while charging unreasonably high royalties. Meanwhile at the business level, in the same month Apple also sued Qualcomm directly over many of the same issues, along with accusing the company of withholding a billion dollars in rebates.

Qualcomm’s countersuit, which was all but expected, forms the backbone of the company’s response to Apple’s own suit and involvement in regulatory actions. In a short press release, the company noted that they intend to “vigorously defend” their business model, while laying out a case for why they believe Apple is in the wrong and why Apple should owe them damages.

A big part of Qualcomm’s countersuit, unsurprisingly, is focused around Apple’s hand in various regulatory suits, accusing the company of “misrepresenting facts and making false statements.” Qualcomm is also accusing Apple of generally mischaracterizing their business interactions with Qualcomm, and interfering with Qualcomm’s business relationships with the third-party firms that actually manufacture Apple’s iOS devices. All told, Qualcomm is accusing Apple of taking several steps to force them to agree to lower licensing rates, and that in doing so Apple violated FRAND principles.

However the most interesting points from Qualcomm’s countersuit involves the iPhone 7, which is the first phone from Apple in several years to offer models without a Qualcomm modem. Here, Qualcomm is specifically accusing Apple of not utilizing the full performance of the Qualcomm modems in those models, while also threatening Qualcomm to prevent them from publicly touting the performance of the Qualcomm-powered models.

Both of these points are almost certainly related to Apple’s configuration choices with the various iPhone 7 models. While the Snapdragon X12 used in the Qualcomm-powered iPhones is capable of LTE Category 12 features, the Intel XMM 7360 modem used in the other models is only capable of LTE Category 10. Presumably to ensure the phones’ abilities were consistent, Apple opted not to enable many Cat 12 features on the Qualcomm models, such as 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM, essentially limiting it to the same 450Mbps down speed as the Intel models.

In any case, at this point the gloves have come off and Qualcomm is not holding back on their increasingly distant customer. Qualcomm’s countersuit isn’t asking for any specific compensation at this time, but the company is looking to be awarded both compensatory and punitive damages from Apple. And with two of the biggest technology companies in the US now locked into mutual legal combat, it’s likely that this series of lawsuits will go the distance.

Source: Qualcomm

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  • shabby - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    Watch out Qualcomm or apple will start making their own modems now.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    Enter the age of patent troll wars. It would be best if the two mutually destroy each other, but I doubt we are that lucky.

    They will have a hard time making their own modems without QCs IP, just like intel and samsung.
  • RBFL - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    I can't see how you categorize either Apple or Qualcomm as a patent troll. I think their bottom lines show fairly large activity in the areas in which they own patents.

    They may throw their weight around but most of those involved like Samsung are hardly small companies themselves.

    It probably shows that patents aren't really up to the job for insanely complicated devices that must use the technology of 100s to 1000s of patents in a single device.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    Because they troll about patents. Whether or not they do anything else with those patents doesn't change the fact. Both obstruct innovation and extort for money. Especially crapple, with its tons of "rounded corners", "slide to unlock", easing curve animation and similar "innovations" with decades or even centuries of prior art.
  • osxandwindows - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    If you have something against the patents, it isn't a "patent troll".
  • Diji1 - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    You clearly are not familiar with what the term "patent troll" even means and now you making yourself look like an idiot by insisting on debating the point..
  • wumpus - Saturday, April 15, 2017 - link

    The fact that "patent troll" has come to have a narrow definition of a way to abuse patent law doesn't absolve other companies of abusing patent law to prevent competition (limiting/taxing competition is pretty much the *only* thing you can do with a patent.

    Don't forget that using literal "patent trolls" to do a companies dirty work is standard action in a patent war. Limited liability comes in handy when you are suing a company for billions (and have next to no assets for a counter-suit).

    Patents are pretty much an obvious failure of IP law. It doesn't help that the patents used in the trial are going to be outrageously bad patents that the patent examiner allow broad wording to slip through the patent and let a lawyer claim the Sun, the Moon, and the stars with the patent.

    The requirements for patents are ghastly low. The "trained in the art" means a newly minted BSEngineering (i.e. typically unhireable, or at least need some real hand-holding on early designs) and hopefully never appearing in the literature (at least that the patent examiner couldn't find). The worst part of it is that once Apple makes their own design, there is *no* way of examining all the outstanding patents that might cover this (you could probably find everything assigned to Qualcom, but certainly not anything they licensed). And anything they might want to leave as a land mine would be assigned directly to a patent troll. So you build what you can and have a patent war with both sides showing the other have violated multiple patents. Patents that were so obvious that Apple probably didn't bother to try to patent such things when they made their design (they probably tried to patent an entire different swath of obvious things).

    Go lookup the Rambus fiasco to see how patent law really works.
  • at80eighty - Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - link

    please stop.
  • Sarah Terra - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    I agree with ddriver, the only possible reason for the rounded corner patent is trolling. I myself have made rounded corners on web UI elements in many of my own designs since the 90's, as have millions of others. It would be one thing if Apple made the patent for protective purposes to prevent others from trolling them, but they use it whenever possible and it's bullshit.
  • RBFL - Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - link

    Part of the problem is the nature of patents and their form. Posing things in terms of an invention is problematic. Optimal designs are often not inventions but are very hard and expensive to achieve.

    In the industry I am in, you could spend millions to work out where a number of holes need to be and their size. It takes less than a day to white light scan the part. Without some form of protection the OEMs will die out as third party copying is far cheaper and easier. Patents are not an optimal solution to this issue but there is no other available so people seek very limited or trivial patents to provide some cover.

    The fact that Samsung copied their designs and created lookalikes is the reason that Apple tries to patent them.

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