There is another wrinkle in the ongoing dispute between Apple and Qualcomm over the issue of patents used in the former’s iPhone devices. Previously Apple claimed Qualcomm was “unfairly…charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with,” and more recently, the company accused the chipmaker of “selecting asserting its patents,” only targeting Apple devices containing Intel chipsets. Now Apple is trying a different legal tactic—it is asking the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to invalidate four of Qualcomm’s patents.
It’s an interesting legal maneuver, and one that would render moot the dispute of whether or not Apple is infringing on Qualcomm’s patents and therefore owes the company any licensing fees. Apple’s argument to the USPTO is that the four patents in question do not cover any new ideas. All four are at the center of the more than yearlong legal dispute that these two tech giants are engaged in, with billions of dollars hinging on the outcome.
The dispute began around a year and a half ago when Apple cooperated with foreign law enforcement agencies that had filed antitrust litigation against Qualcomm. According to Apple, Qualcomm responded by withholding nearly $1 billion in payments owed. The company also accused Qualcomm for charging royalties for technologies it does not own.
There have been several twists and turns along the way, and where it stands now is Qualcomm wants Apple to fork over licensing fees for allegedly implementing technologies into iPhones that are based on patents it owns. The worst case scenario for Apple is that Qualcomm wins its dispute and a judge issues an import ban on iPhone products until things are sorted out financially. What’s more likely to happen if Apple loses is that it will pay whatever is needed in order to keep iPhones flowing into the US.
Apple’s petition with the USPTO is an attempt to sidestep the issue entirely. The four patents it was invalidated cover various aspects of the iPhone’s operating, including automatically focusing the digital camera, having a device that functions as both a phone and personal digital assistant, touch sensitive displays, and circuit memory.
A three-judge review board will look into the matter and make a preliminary decision. If it believes Apple has a valid case, it will formally review the situation at large and make a final determination, likely sometime next year.