Apple, Qualcomm Patent Dispute Hurtles Toward Trial

SAN DIEGO (CN) – As the patent litigation between technology heavyweights Apple and Qualcomm heads toward trial this spring, attorneys sparred in federal court Friday over whether a judge should find Qualcomm’s patent license offer to Apple was fair.

Apple sued Qualcomm in the Southern District of California in 2017 over claims Qualcomm’s monopoly on chipset technology used in smartphones caused Apple and its contract manufacturers to overpay to use the patented technology.

Qualcomm has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission as well the European Union and Korean regulators and has faced billions in antitrust fines over its chipset patent licenses.

At Friday’s late afternoon court hearing, Apple attorney Ruffin Cordell, with Fish & Richardson of Washington D.C., argued U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not make a declaratory judgment finding Qualcomm’s patent license is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory, or FRAND.

“The reason they are doing [this] is to use it as a negotiating tool for ongoing talks with Apple should those ever resume,” Cordell said in urging Curiel not to find Qualcomm’s patent license is FRAND-compliant.

Cordell said Qualcomm has refused to license other chipset makers and that it charges rates a “magnitude larger” than others do for the same technology.

At one point during Cordell’s argument, Curiel interrupted him to ask: “Would these issues confuse a jury or will they come in any event?”

Cordell confirmed the issues regarding FRAND would be raised during trial, saying “FRAND will always be a part of the case.”

Qualcomm attorney Richard Stark with Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York agreed the trial would focus heavily on whether Qualcomm satisfied its FRAND obligations.

But Stark argued at the end of the day, “This is a straightforward breach of contract issue.”

He noted that if the court granted declaratory relief in favor of Qualcomm now, then Apple could not bring breach of contract claims against Qualcomm following the trial.

“There will be very important consequences once this litigation is over,” Stark said.

“It seems to us plainly that the FRAND commitments comprise a contract whether it was breached or not,” Stark added.

But on rebuttal Cordell said he wanted “to burst out of my chest,” when Stark told the judge Qualcomm’s FRAND obligations would be “disputed at a higher level than patent-by-patent.”

“There is no such thing as ‘portfolio infringement,’” Cordell said.

“Portfolios are not weighed by the pound. You have to look at the patents that make them up. The patents they have: are they non-exhausted and do they have real value?” Cordell asked.

The trial in San Diego is scheduled for April 15.

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