Apple Counterclaim and 3 New Qualcomm Suits Increase Scope of Battle over Mobile Device Tech

In late November, the legal dispute between San Diego, CA-based semiconductor developer Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Cupertino, CA-based consumer tech giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) over patents covering various electronic device components and features. A series of actions taking place in the Southern District of California shifts the focus of what has been an international squabble over patent infringement and antitrust claims back to American soil.

On November 29th, Apple filed a counterclaim in a case brought to Southern California by Qualcomm back in early July of this year, asserting a series of six non-standard-essential patents (non-SEPs) covering technologies incorporated into Apple iPhones for which Apple was refusing to pay to license. In the counterclaim, Apple alleges that Qualcomm has incorporated power management technologies developed by Apple into its Snapdragon 800 and 820 processors in violation of eight patents held by Apple which cover extended battery life technologies.

“This case presents a tale of two companies. On one hand we have Apple who literally created the modern smartphone as a product category, with the iPhone’s cutting edge design, easy connectivity, superlative battery life, and interactive applications that make the smartphone the smartphone. On the other we have Qualcomm, who developed rudimentary telephone technology that carried voice calls in the early days of feature phones, but whose technology is dated. This is borne out in the patents each party places before this Court.”

Along with seeking declarations of noninfringement and invalidity of the patents asserted by Qualcomm in the case, Apple asserts the eight patents which Qualcomm has allegedly infringed. These patents include:

  • U.S. Patent No. 7355905, titled Integrated Circuit with Separate Supply Voltage for Memory that is Different from Logic Circuit Supply Voltage. Issued in April 2008 to P.A. Semi, Inc., it covers an integrated circuit with a logic circuit and a memory circuit configured to write memory into a memory array at low supply voltages.
  • U.S. Patent No. 7383453, titled Conserving Power by Reducing Voltage Supplied to an Instruction-Processing Portion of a Processor. Issued in June 2008 to Apple, it covers an instruction-processing system with minimal static power leakage which is configured to maintain full voltage to one portion of a processor while the instruction-processing portion of the processor is in a reduced power mode.
  • U.S. Patent No. 8443216, titled Hardware Automatic Performance State Transitions in System on Processor Sleep and Wake Events. It claims an apparatus with a plurality of components included in a plurality of performance domains, one of which contains a power management unit which can cause a processor to transition into and out of a sleep state.

On the same day that Apple filed its counterclaim, Qualcomm filed a series of three lawsuits alleging patent infringement against Apple in Southern California district court. Qualcomm’s first complaint asserted a series of five non-SEPs covering efficient processor and imaging processing technologies. These patents include:

  • U.S. Patent No. 9154356, titled Low Noise Amplifiers for Carrier Aggregation. Issued to Qualcomm in October 2015, it discloses low noise amplifiers supporting carrier aggregation, the amplifiers providing better performance and greater efficiency for carrier aggregation.
  • U.S. Patent No. 9552633, titled Depth Aware Enhancement for Stereo Video. Issued January 2017, it claims a method for enhancing an image which involves retrieving left and right images depicting the same scene from different viewpoints in a way which reduces battery consumption on electronic devices processing the image enhancement.

Qualcomm’s second complaint filed on November 29th asserted a series of six patents which it accused Apple iPhones and iPads of infringing upon. The patents in this suit cover image processing, stepped gain mixer, machine-learning and content delivery technologies. They include:

  • U.S. Patent No. 8971861, titled Relevant Content Delivery. Issued to Qualcomm in March 2015, it covers a method for selecting content for delivery which involves receiving physiological state data from a user of a mobile device, including location data, to determine the ideal state in which the user can be presented with advertising content.
  • U.S. Patent No. 7834591, titled Switching Battery Charging Systems and Methods. Issued in November 2010, it discloses a universal serial bus (USB) battery charger which includes a switching regulator to modify the battery current based on circuit conditions like battery voltage. Qualcomm came into possession of this patent when it it acquired Summit Microelectronics, the original patent owner, in June of 2012.

The third complaint filed by Qualcomm asserts another five patents which were originally developed by PalmPilot and TouchTable and in which Qualcomm has invested and now owns. The patents-in-suit in this case include:

  • U.S. Patent No. 7844037, entitled Method and Device for Enabling Message Responses to Incoming Phone Calls. Issued in November 2010 to Palm Inc., it covers a method for operating a first computing device receiving an incoming call from a second computing device in a way which enables a user of the first device to respond to the call with a text message.
  • U.S. Patent No. 8665239, titled Method and Apparatus Continuing Action of User Gestures Performed Upon a Touch Sensitive Interactive Display in Simulation of Inertia. Issued in March 2014 to Qualcomm, it covers a computer implemented method performed in a system including a processor coupled to digital data storage and and a display having a touch-sensitive surface, the method providing a way for the touch- and force-sensitive control of an interactive display with user gestures, such as is useful for geographic imagery applications.

This recent activity is a very interesting ramping up of the legal battle playing out between Qualcomm and Apple throughout 2017 starting in January, when Apple and the Federal Trade Commission both filed suit against Qualcomm over alleged breaches of Qualcomm’s fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) obligations for its SEP licensing activities. Qualcomm hit back in April, suing Apple for tortious interference, claiming among other things that Apple was misrepresenting the performance of Qualcomm’s technology to foreign regulators in order to induce fines and penalties, such as the $912 million fine from South Korean fair trade regulators which was recently upheld in that country’s courts. Qualcomm has taken its legal fight against Apple to multiple jurisdictions as well, filing suits against the consumer tech giant with the U.S. International Trade Commission in July and then again in China’s IP courts this October. Qualcomm’s recent legal activities also come during the same month in which rival semiconductor firm Broadcom made an unsolicited proposal to buy Qualcomm for $130 billion.


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