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Supreme Court blocks Apple’s bid to invalidate Qualcomm patents

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It’s certainly not the most controversial Supreme Court ruling this week, but on Monday the court ruled it wouldn’t listen to Apple’s revised bid to have some Qualcomm smartphone patents canceled. Apple is pushing for such a statement, although both it and Qualcomm reached a settlement during a billion-dollar trial held in 2019. Apple paid Qualcomm an undisclosed amount, and both parties agreed to a six-year license agreement that expires in 2025.
Apple and Qualcomm also signed a multi-year chipset supply agreement, which gave Apple enough modem chips to meet its needs for a few years. Apple tried to appeal a lower court ruling that the company did not have the standing to revoke Qualcomm’s patents because of the settlement. Apple had argued it should appeal, as Qualcomm could sue it again once the settlement with Apple expires.

In 2017, Qualcomm sued Apple for infringing several Qualcomm patents for cellular technology for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Both companies had taken legal action against the other, and Apple went to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the Patent and Trademark Office to challenge the validity of Qualcomm’s patents. The Appeals Committee ruled in favor of Qualcomm and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dismissed Apple’s appeal last year based on the Apple-Qualcomm settlement.

Apple explained to the Supreme Court that it still ran the risk of being charged again if the settlement expires in 2025 or 2027 (the settlement included a two-year option). Apple pointed out that Qualcomm had previously sued it, “has not relinquished its intention to do so again”, and has a “history of aggressively enforcing its patents”.

In associating its position with the judges, Qualcomm argued that Apple had not suffered any specific harm that would give it legal authority to ask the court to reject Qualcomm’s patents. Last month, President Joe Biden suggested that the Supreme Court reject Apple’s request to appeal. And in this situation, the court gave the president what he wanted.

Apple hopes to use a 5G modem it designed itself, and top TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has said Apple will debut its own 5G modem with the 2023 iPhone 15 series. Kuo said Apple’s decision to use a specially designed 5G modem for the iPhone will hit Qualcomm hard. The analyst notes that Qualcomm may need to include MediaTek for modem orders in the mid to low end of the Android market.

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