Even though the Qualcomm and Apple spat over potential infringement of two of the former’s patents continues, Qualcomm has managed what is possibly a big coup in China. the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China has granted Qualcomm’s request for two preliminary injunctions against four Chinese subsidiaries of Apple Inc., ordering them to immediately cease infringing upon two Qualcomm patents through the unlicensed importation as well as the sale and offers for sale in China of the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. Interesting to note that the ban in China does not mention any restrictions on the sale of the new iPhone XS, XS Max, or iPhone XR. Apple is reportedly appealing against the ban, which it says applies only to iPhones running the older iOS software.
The two patents, Qualcomm clarifies, were previously found to be valid by SIPO, the Chinese patent office. The patents in question are specifically for the features that allows users to adjust and reformat the size and appearance of photographs, and to manage applications using a touch screen when viewing, navigating and dismissing applications on their phones. “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,” says Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel, Qualcomm Incorporated, in an official statement.
Apple shot back. In a press statement released by the company, Apple did not hold back any punches. “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,” says an official statement from Apple.
At the time of writing this, Apple is listing the iPhone XS Max, the iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7 on its Chinese website. Apple could argue that it should be allowed to sell iPhones that run the newer iOS software. However, Qualcomm could very well argue that the Chinese court ruling does not specifically talk about the iOS software, and could very well demand that the order be enforced.
The ruling also adds to developments that have worsened trade tensions between the United States of America and China.
Apple and Qualcomm have been fighting legal battles over intellectual property, including about technology for wireless networks and devices. Apple has accused Qualcomm of illegally charging too much as license fees. Qualcomm has countered it by talking about patent infringements that include various features which dictate how users interact with smartphones and how certain features are driven.
It must however be noted that such decisions usually don’t result in on-ground change. In December 2011, Motorola Mobility had won a court ruling in Germany, after it had demanded a ban on the sale of various Apple iPhone and iPad variants, in the region. It became applicable February 2012, Apple paused sales of devices from its online store in the country but subsequently won a protection against the original running—and this protection is ongoing. Could the Chinese court ruling have a bearing on the various other litigations which Apple and Qualcomm are battling, around the world? Perhaps.
However, the reality of the situation is that Qualcomm perhaps needs a resolution more than Apple does. Apple no longer user Qualcomm chips in any of the products that it makes—and in fact, its A12 Bionic chip leaves the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 behind in terms of performance—and that loss of license fees could hurt Qualcomm more. The negotiation table awaits Apple and Qualcomm.
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