Today Qualcomm was granted an injunction against Apple, allowing for a ban of certain iPhone models in Germany. The announcement comes only a little over a week after a Chinese court ruled in a similar fashion against Apple, on the case that the company is infringing Qualcomm patents.

The case in Germany is on the matter of infringing certain patents that cover the functioning of envelope tracking (ET). ET is a key component in the RF front-end of a cellular system, and its usage notably increases the power efficiency of the system by avoiding unnecessary losses on the side of the power amplifier.

Qualcomm claims Apple’s implementation in certain devices infringes on their patents – in this case we’re talking about international models of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 which rely on Intel modems and a Qorvo ET chip.

The ban is currently not yet active, as Qualcomm will need to post a bond of €668.4m before the order can be enforced. Meanwhile, Apple is naturally appealing the injunction. The interesting aspect here is that Apple is removing the iPhone 7 & 8 from its stores in Germany, although this doesn’t mean that the phones won’t be available anymore as they will remain on sale through their resellers. Apple’s statements, as quoted by Reuters:

“We are of course disappointed by this verdict and we plan to appeal,”

“All iPhone models remain available to customers through carriers and resellers in 4,300 locations across Germany. During the appeal process, iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models will not be available at Apple’s 15 retail stores in Germany. iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR will remain available in all our stores.”

Qorvo chief intellectual property counsel also disputes the court’s findings:

“We believe our envelope tracking chip does not infringe the patent in suit, and the court would have come to a different conclusion if it had considered all the evidence,”

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Source: Reuters

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  • Raqia - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    Good post. There are multiple other non-essential patent claims still in the pipeline in multiple jurisdictions should this one not stick; before the US ITC, only one out of six patents were ultimately found to be infringed by Apple but this is sufficient to grant an injunction. Presumably Qualcomm will expand its efforts for its most promising complaints in discovery to cover existing and future iPhones.

    My suspicion is that Apple's recent handful of positions in modem engineering were not meant to design their own modem (as even older standards require hundreds of man years for a competitive implementation) but rather to engineer around Qualcomm's complaints. Apple is angling for more negative regulatory decisions as leverage before going to trial themselves against Qualcomm; Qualcomm wants to punish Apple's overreach in withholding all licensing fees (even non-disputed amounts) and force a settlement before this can happen.
  • frenchy_2001 - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    the 670M is peanuts compared to the literal BILLIONS Apple refuses to pay QC for their FRAND patents (on communication protocols).
    There is no good guy in this war, only corporate greed on both sides, but QC has been more innovative than Apple in the phone market, and not getting paid for it.
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 20, 2018 - link

    I agree. Apple has tried to emphasize the exterior build and the human interfaces of the modern smartphone as the more important aspect of it, and they did indeed create the seminal, working implementations that inspired what all modern phones now use. However, the engineering expertise for the essential and much more difficult cellular data connectivity standards have largely been provided by Qualcomm, even though this aspect is much less appreciable to the public and largely behind the scenes.

    Steve Jobs declared that Apple was planning to go "thermonuclear" on Android before he died, and I think their suit against Qualcomm is a much more essential component of this plan than their suit against Samsung given how easily Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8xx series enables Chinese OEMs to achieve feature parity with the iPhone; all they need to do is boot Android and most of them need not foot any of the substantial upfront R&D costs as Apple has to annually.

    Apple is too proud to relinquish what now seems like a guiding value of their business in face of mounting legal pressure; I also believe Android phones will mostly fill the void that an iPhone ban will leave behind. The Chinese won't mind as their manufacturing facilities will likely make the same (low) margins creating Android handsets as iPhones, but their OEMs will collect much more of the profit up the value chain. Qualcomm should be only too happy to see this as it will be a full licensing payment to them as per their NDRC agreement from 2015 as well as a likely SoC sale as so many Chinese OEMs rely on Qualcomm's.
  • Zoolook13 - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    There is really no reason to expect this ban to have any big impact, banning phones in one country of the EU should not have a big impact, since you can get next day delivery from any number of other countries in the "one market".
    It will have an impact only on people who for some reason only buys from brick and mortar shops.
    Probably a small increase in sales of the newer iphones compared to what it would have been.
    I really doubt it's worth the risk/cost for Qc.
  • Spunjji - Monday, December 24, 2018 - link

    You're missing the bigger picture. A win here provides them with a much stronger negotiating position to deal with Apple on the global stage. Similarly, even a small dent in profits for Apple for following this suit might well lead to their entire legal strategy being questioned.
  • Spunjji - Monday, December 24, 2018 - link

    Thanks for the additional info. Standard shady behaviour from all parties so far, as expected!
  • cha0z_ - Thursday, December 27, 2018 - link

    Don't forget the part that the phone is only banned for sale in 15 apple stores. All the models are free to sell in resellers or carriers, i.e. the ban is worthless and a big roflmao. Either ban the phone selling for real or don't, what's the point to ban it in 15 stores from 5 000? :)
  • Raqia - Thursday, December 27, 2018 - link

    The official order is that all legacy models being sold at German third parties need to be recalled although Apple isn't complying; they are similarly defying court orders in China barring sales. There will likely be stiff penalties for this defiance assessed against Apple. This is Qualcomm's retaliation for Apple ceasing all contractually owed licensing payments to them early in 2017. It is puzzling that Apple would do this as there is a non-disputed amount they both agree that Qualcomm is owed; Apple could have easily paid at least this amount and waited for the court to decide on the rest. One has to wonder if Apple did this in collusion with friendlier supplier Broadcom which initiated a failed hostile takeover earlier this year. Now that this bid failed, Apple is left holding the bag for their significant overreach in this overreach with multiple additional decisions likely to go in Qualcomm's favor in the coming months. Apple's remaining hope is to use negative regulatory rulings (that Apple instigated using false testimony) against Qualcomm to their favor in their coming trial versus Qualcomm.
  • Rukur - Friday, December 21, 2018 - link

    Apple is making more and more of the chips it needs. Qualcomm can sue but Apple has deep pockets and win or lose. It will not matter.
    Intel is on notice with terrible CPU's for Apple laptops, 2 cores in basicly 2019.
  • Raqia - Sunday, December 23, 2018 - link

    Chips aren't at issue here, rather cellular interface patents are. These describe electromagnetic interfaces between phones and cellular towers that accommodate many users at once, address many difficult quality concerns like handoffs and reception quality, and are far more sophisticated than other patented interfaces such as GUI elements, software APIs, or x86 and ARM instruction sets upon which far bigger empires have been built upon. If you interface w/ 3G or 4G LTE (and 5G) cellular stations even without using Qualcomm's baseband implementations in the handset, you are using Qualcomm's patents and owe them a licensing fee. These are openly licensed and standard essential patents however and are encumbered by fair and non-discriminatory licensing requirements.

    Apple alleges 2 things, namely that assessing royalties off of a capped percentage of the device wholesale unfairly eats into their innovations and that selling the modem should preclude Qualcomm from being able to assess a separate licensing fee as this exhausts the patents they are claiming. Both are absurd claims as the licensing structure is essentially a discount from a fixed fee for most OEMs (read Android) who typically have lower wholesale costs than Apple and make less intensive use of a standard than iPhones. Phones w/ lower res screens, cameras, and less storage don't have as high a data requirement on the infrastructure as ones w/ higher specs and such a licensing scheme is much more fair to the industry than a fixed fee. To say that patents expire on the sale of the implementing modem is equally absurd as claiming that once a harddrive is sold, no software licensing fee for software stored on that harddrive can be subsequently assessed. Costs to the public and the pace of improvements are far lower as a result than say with the closed x86 implementation environment which still only consists of Intel and AMD. Apple's main interest here is hobbling a key enabler of the Android ecosystem in Qualcomm, which does so through licensing discounts and providing the R&D intensive SoCs that achieve feature parity with Apple AX's year after year.

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