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Supreme Court blocks Apple bid to invalidate Qualcomm patents


It’s certainly not the most controversial ruling made by the Supreme Court this week, but on Monday the court ruled that it would not listen to Apple’s revised attempt to have a pair of Qualcomm smartphone patents canceled. Apple seeks such a ruling even though both it and Qualcomm reached a settlement during a billion-dollar trial that was being held in 2019. Apple paid Qualcomm an undisclosed sum and both sides agreed to a six-year licensing agreement that expires in 2025.
Apple and Qualcomm also signed a multi-year chipset supply agreement that gave Apple enough modem chips to cover its needs for a few years. Apple sought to appeal a lower court ruling that said the company did not have the standing to cancel Qualcomm’s patents because of the settlement. Apple had argued that it should be allowed to appeal since Qualcomm could sue it again once the settlement with Apple expires.

In 2017, Qualcomm sued Apple accusing it of infringing on various Qualcomm mobile-technology patents for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Both companies had taken legal action against the other and Apple went to the Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board to challenge the validity of Qualcomm’s patents. The Appeal Board 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 faced the risk of being sued again when the settlement expires in 2025 or 2027 (a two-year option was included in the settlement). Apple pointed out that Qualcomm had sued it before, “not disclaimed its intention to do so again,” and has a “history of aggressively enforcing its patents.”

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

Apple has been hoping to use a 5G modem that it itself designed and top TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has said that Apple will debut its own 5G modem with the 2023 iPhone 15 series. Kuo said that Apple’s decision to use a custom designed 5G modem for the iPhone will hit Qualcomm hard. The analyst notes that Qualcomm might have to end up taking on MediaTek for modem orders in the mid-to-low-end of the Android market.

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