back to article Well, that escalated quickly: Qualcomm demands iPhone, iPad sales ban in America

Qualcomm is upping the stakes in its legal war against Apple by accusing the Cupertino idiot-tax operation of infringing six patents. The California chip designer today said iPhones and iPads using Intel's 4G wireless chips are effectively using a half-dozen Qualcomm inventions without permission. Now, Qualcomm is asking the …

  1. whoseyourdaddy

    I think I'll need to stock up on Popcorn.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm kind of intrigued - maybe this is one of those movies that will end in mutual self-destruction?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        mutual self-destruction

        The Day After, the director's cut. Something ABC never dared release and probably will never release (it came under immense pressure by a number of US administrations to keep that hidden somewhere deep in the cupboards).

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge

          "The Day After, the director's cut. Something ABC never dared release"

          Why wouldn't they? 'Threads' was much worse than TDA. We've seen worlds collide (literally) in cinema after those films, can't be that shocking.

          1. EddieD

            Humongous upvote for the Threads reference, probably the most realistic, and chilling, representation of the country after a nuclear strike.

            Scared the crap out of me when I saw it as an impressionable teenager, going back to it in middle age wasn't much better.

            Back on topic - I've been wondering if something like this would occur ever since Apple started to make their own chips.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              >Humongous upvote for the Threads reference, probably the most realistic, and chilling, representation of the country after a nuclear strike.

              >Scared the crap out of me when I saw it as an impressionable teenager, going back to it in middle age wasn't much better.

              Try watching Threads as an impressionable teenager who spent many/most weekends in Sheffield and living just outside the blast radius...

  2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    8,698,558

    Surely some audio amp nut has already done this many years ago: A broadband precision Class AB amp with current sensors driving a low quality Class D amp providing low frequency power assistance. I was experimenting with this when I was in college and there was no such thing as too much power. I probably would have gotten it working if I could have afforded high frequency power components back then.

    1. boltar Silver badge

      Re: 8,698,558

      Did you get lost on the way from another discussion?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 8,698,558

        "Did you get lost on the way from another discussion?"

        Did you read the article ?

        1. boltar Silver badge

          Re: 8,698,558

          "Did you read the article ?"

          Yes, and I'm still trying to figure out wtf his pet student audio amp project has got to do with any of it.

          1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

            Re: 8,698,558

            8,698,558 is mixing AB and D amps to provide a modulated power source to the RF transmitter. A whole lot of that patent looks like old tech that could have existed in the 1990s or earlier.

            Class AB is an analog push-pull configuration that has very high precision and nearly infinite bandwidth, but it's resistive. Any difference between the power rails and the output becomes heat. Class D is a pulse width modulated switching configuration that has a very limited frequency response and lots of distortion but nearly perfect efficiency. Combining the two results in excellent bandwidth and precision plus excellent efficiency for low frequency and DC components.

            1. Endymion

              Re: 8,698,558

              I believe this is the technology used in the Devialet D110 power amplifiers - class A stage provides voltage gain and a Class D stage provides the current?

  3. Herby
    Joke

    Pretty soon...

    This might escalate to Nuclear Weapons or something equivalent. Then again, maybe I'm reading the North Korean missile thing incorrectly.

    But the advice of stocking up on popcorn is a pretty good one. I see salvos coming in from both sides. Both sides have lots of $$$ to spend on legal beagles.

    1. caffeine addict Silver badge

      Re: Pretty soon...

      The US govt just needs to file a patent suit against NK for "an improved method of unregulated exothermic reaction through the use of fissile materials" and get a ban on NK "importing" nukes to the US...

  4. ckm5

    "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

    == game over c.f. Imagination & PortalPlayer

    1. RonWheeler

      Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

      Doubt it. Qualcomm aren't I suspect as vulnerable. Although it will hurt. Stupid leftie hipsters have a lot of disposable income.

      1. Meph
        Alien

        Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

        It smells to me a little like a new standard in licensing renegotiation tactics. My money is on an out-of-court settlement some time in the next 6 months or so.

      2. ckm5

        Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

        Yeah, that's what Adobe thought too, so did Nokia and Motorola.

        I'm sure that their shareholders will cheer when markets knock billions off their valuation.... IMHO, we've just seen peak Qualcomm, esp. with the Feds largely agreeing with Apple.

        Everyone in the industry hates Qualcomm, they've been dicks for years, and would be happy to see them taken out.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

          Everyone in the industry hates Qualcomm, they've been dicks for years, and would be happy to see them taken out.

          In effect they're quite capable of talk themselves out.

          Qualcomm's strong grip on the IPR behind CDMA was the thing that destroyed their dominance of mobile networks in the USA and stopped them ruling the entire world's networks. The USA went with CDMA, no one else did; it was GSM globally.

          GSM is an open standard (in that you can get the docs for free), and the standards tell you everything, with a well defined package of FRAND patents that lay behind it. So it was cheap and easy for people to design, build and operate GSM networks. GSM also had many technical advantages in the field of network design and expansion; no cell breathing.

          If you wanted to use CDMA, Qualcomm apparently were pretty vague when divulging technical information; using CDMA meant buying support from Qualcomm.

          I think things improved with CDMA2000, but most countries went with UMTS. Now 4G, a very un-Qualcomm standard, is used everywhere.

        2. ARGO
          WTF?

          Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

          "they've been dicks for years"

          So totally different from Apple then :-/

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

            It almost looks like Qualcomm took a look at Apple's business tactics and had a bit of a "hold my beer" moment.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

      Who are Apple going to go to? Intel? They've already tried that and the result was spectacularly unimpressive.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

        Intel has massively increased their investment in their LTE implementation in the last couple years. There's a little catching up to do, but by next year there will probably be little practical difference between them.

        Arguably there already is little difference, providing you don't need CDMA. Sure, Intel's LTE implementation doesn't hit the same peak speeds as Qualcomm's, but is anyone really going to care if their iPhone 8 manages "only" 400 Mbps LTE downloads with the Intel chip instead of 1 Gbps with Qualcomm's? I know I wouldn't.

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

          "...is anyone really going to care if their iPhone 8 manages "only" 400 Mbps LTE downloads with the Intel chip instead of 1 Gbps with Qualcomm's? I know I wouldn't."

          Considering I'm nowhere near able to hit 1 Gbps between two of my own boxes both sitting on the same desk merely on account of one of them being a Windows box (and you better believe I tried everything down to obscure registry hacks and driver packet size settings - only a Linux live CD worked...) - well, I suspect no they wouldn't. /rant

    3. Erik_Aamot

      Re: "Apple will no longer use any Qualcomm chips in future products"

      Didn't Apple say the same about Samsung chips about 3 years ago ?

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    I don't see how this is Apple's problem

    So can Apple claim it's ignorant of how Intel implements its chips?

    I feel this would resolve to "We don't know they work, we just use the software APIs. Ask Intel." but obviously I'm not a lawyer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Holmes

      Re: I don't see how this is Apple's problem

      You can say all kinds of things, but lying to a judge is usually not a good idea, especially if the lies can be proven to be lies. Given how anal Apple usually is in every other aspect of business, I kind of doubt that they are ignorant of how Intel's chips work. Aren't they the ones always claiming that they've engineered deep internal changes to the workings of chip sets in order to optimize performance, or some such rubbish?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't see how this is Apple's problem

      Big business can be a dirty game it seems.

      It is perfectly possible that Apple are unaware of the patent liabilities surrounding Intel's modems. The contract between Apple and Intel may have a clause guaranteeing that there are no patent issues, in which case this becomes Intel's problem.

      There may also be a clause that specifically guarantees nothing, in which case this is Apple's problem. And having bought Qualcomm for so long, mostly (?) trouble free, it's possible that mistakes have been made in whatever diligence process was used.

      These patents perhaps were never mentioned in any contract Apple have with Qualcomm; kinda like hidden landmines left in the IPR landscape by Qualcomm just in case Apple ever walked away from buying from Qualcomm. They’ve just exploded, and now the courts will see if they've scored a hit on Apple.

      Apple's contract with Qualcomm could have a clause about being granted a licence to all of Qualcomm's patents, but I doubt it; Qualcomm would be giving away patents on things utterly unrelated to mobile modems. So I suspect that relevant Qualcomm patents were listed in the contract, and Apple used this list to assess the buy-ability of Intel's modems, and didn't look at Qualcomm's other patents to see if they'd been hoodwinked by Qualcomm.

      That would be a particularly dirty trick on Qualcomm's part, but then they're the smaller party in a huge deal with a company known to use its corporate might with impunity. It's well known that doing business with Apple can be dangerous to one's health.

      Imagination might have similar tactics up its sleave.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does someone have...

    a chip on their shoulder (pad)?

  7. Alan Penzotti
    Mushroom

    Why does the final product price determine the royalty?

    If Apple were smart, it would re-introduce the iPod shuffle with the Qualcomm chipsets, but unused in implementation. Produce 100B of these units. Sell or give away 80B of these units, and then scrap 10B of these units to salvage the chipsets for their higher priced kit, and destroy 10B of these units as "unsaleable/unsalvageable." That way the cost per chipset would be cheaper.

    Another way would be to use these iPod Shuffle units as a concealed "plug in module" inside these final revenue shipping units.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does the final product price determine the royalty?

      "Why does the final product price determine the royalty?" because that was what was agreed.

      Whilst Qualcomm's contract could be seen as being unreasonable and an abuse of monopoly, Apple signed, so all this Qualcomm are bad people doesn't really apply.

      US business goals are always to gain a monopoly by any means availible and then screw your customers, using the US courts to defend it.

      Apple and Qualcomm are both guilty so you know the only people who are going to be punished are their customers. Since that is not me then I am just going to sit back and enjoy the show.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why does the final product price determine the royalty?

      Did you actually think about that before you posted?

      Spend £10 producing a bit of kit, throwing it in the bin to save maybe £1

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Why does the final product price determine the royalty?

        Did you actually think about that before you posted?

        Spend £10 producing a bit of kit, throwing it in the bin to save maybe £1

        No no, I think he's onto something - it sounds like a great way for Apple to make a small fortune.

        Of course, it presupposes that they start beforehand with a large fortune...

  8. LazLong

    Apple's hypocritical

    "They supply us with a single connectivity component, but for years have been demanding a percentage of the total cost of our products – effectively taxing Apple's innovation," Apple said via a spokesperson."

    Like how Apple taxes software developers' innovation 30% of the cost of apps sold on the App Store? Hypocritical bastards. This is one of the reasons I dislike Apple so.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Apple's hypocritical

      Lets look at it in a slightly different way.

      Say that Ford uses Brand X tyres on a Ford Focus and pays Brand X $500 for using five of them.

      Brand X makes money and everyone is happy.

      Now this upstart Ferrari comes along and uses the exact same tyres in their new F99332 Special that costs a cool $2M a pop.

      Brand X say, sorry no. I want $50,000 per tyre, ie. the came percentage of the end user cost of the car. Ferrari say fuck no and move to Brand Y tyres who will sell them equivalent tyres for $500 a set.

      Brand X don't like this and sue Ferrari 'because we always charge a percentage of the final cost of the car on top of a fee to the company that puts the tyres onto the rims. That fee is for using our IP with their rims.

      Is that right? This double dipping as it is called AFAIK, happens nowhere else.

      If QC charge say Google a flat licensing fee for using essentially the same chip for us in a Pixel why can they say to Apple, give us a percentage of the iPhone cost EVEN if you are not using our chips?

      Patents and especially on the mobile area work on FRAND. That means QC have to use the same terms with ALL their customers no matter who they are. They can't just milk Apple (even though they mostly deserve it) because Apple kit is mostly (see the Pixel and S8 prices...) the most expensive and therefore profitable on the market.

      IANAL and all that.

      Around 10 years ago this was very well discussed on Groklaw and some seasoned IP lawyers and academics all came down on the side of FAIR licensing and against a percentage of the final device price.

      1. weallneedhelp

        Re: Apple's hypocritical

        FRAND terms only normally apply to patents which are standards essential. None of the patents here look like they would fall under that category, and hence licensing terms are entirely between Qualcomm and Apple.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Apple's hypocritical

          licensing terms are entirely between Qualcomm and Apple.

          Actually - the licensing would be between Intel and Qualcomm (if Intel is using QC IPR in their chips).

          If Apple is buying those chips from Intel then Qualcomm have already been paid their patent fees and have no case against Apple (as an end user).

          The analoguos situation is the patent troll that sued end-users of fax machines because their 'IPR' appeared to cover the devices. Wrong target - sue the manufacturers. But they have deep pockets (and lawyers) whereas end-users often don't and are an easy target.

          I think the term is 'patent exhaustion' but IANAL. Someone who knows better will be doubtless along shortly..

          1. DougS Silver badge

            @CrazyOldCatMan

            You'd think it works that way, but doesn't always. Qualcomm may specifically not license its patents to Intel, going after those who use them instead. That would have a beneficial effect for Qualcomm of making Intel's cellular chips more of a pain to use and therefore decreasing their market share.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Apple's hypocritical

        You car analogy is a bit crap.

        Ford use brand X. Brand x say you can buy the tyres with tread pattern Q for 1% of the resale value, regardless of cost. Ford enter a contract to buy them at that cost.

        Ferrari come along and Brand X say we want to charge you 2% for the tyres using Pattern Q. Ferrari agree to this and sign the contract.

        Ferrari realise Ford are only paying 1% percent and demand the same. Brand X say no as you agreed to pay 2%.

        Ferrari switches to Brand Y and pays a set agree price.

        Brand Y have an agreement with Brand X, that they can use the same tread pattern Q but only on cars valued less than £10K

        Ferrari buy these tyres knowing this agreement is in place, but purchase them anyway.

        Brand X sue Ferrari for not paying the fees to uses that tread pattern as originally agreed

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Apple's hypocritical

      You realize Google "taxes" software developers the exact same 30%, right? Where's your outrage over that?

      Did you think that software developers selling programs for Windows got to keep the entire sales price you paid when you bought a nice shrinkwrapped CD at Best Buy? They didn't even get 30% of it, let alone 70%. And most of them didn't get shelf space on Best Buy, whereas every software developer who follows the rules and pays $99/yr gets "shelf space" at the App Store.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. LazLong

        Re: Apple's hypocritical

        You realize Google "taxes" software developers the exact same 30%, right? Where's your outrage over that?

        I don't have a problem with that because Google allows other app stores, such as Amazon's, to be installed onto Android devices. Apple doesn't allow anything to be installed that doesn't come from their App Store and give them their cut. Closed systems are ultimately detrimental to consumers by trying to prevent competition and stifling innovation, among other ills. And please don't give me the closed-garden security drivel; it's beneath The Reg's audience.

        Did you think that software developers selling programs for Windows got to keep the entire sales price you paid when you bought a nice shrinkwrapped CD at Best Buy? They didn't even get 30% of it, let alone 70%. And most of them didn't get shelf space on Best Buy, whereas every software developer who follows the rules and pays $99/yr gets "shelf space" at the App Store.

        No, I know better having worked computer retail 31 years ago, and still being capable of a reasonable amount of accurate observation today. But, second verse, same as the first: Computer retail is far more open than Apple's App Store, with developers not being prevented from marketing competing technologies to the OS platform developer. And yes, I'm aware of having to pay for shelf space and prime display real estate.

        As for the percentage of retail prices developers get to keep, the price of software for traditional productivity platforms is higher, though I haven't bothered to Google app store revenue vs traditional channels.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Apple's hypocritical

        "You realize Google "taxes" software developers the exact same 30%, right? Where's your outrage over that?"

        Given that this is a row between Apple & Qualcom what's the relevance of Google?

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Apple's hypocritical

          Because the comment was about Apple's software pricing/share model maybe?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple's hypocritical

      You've never been involved in selling through an agent have you?

    4. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Apple's hypocritical

      "Like how Apple taxes software developers' innovation 30% of the cost of apps sold on the App Store? Hypocritical bastards. This is one of the reasons I dislike Apple so."

      As a developer, yes, Apple takes 30% of my money (and thank you for repeating the "tax" meme that Microsoft invented ten years ago), but then I have sales in dozens of different countries, and trying to do that without Apple would be an absolute logistical nightmare.

      BTW. Many commercial apps are free, and Apple pays nothing. Like the eBay app, or Uber app, or lots of apps for different stores and banking.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    QC is in deep legal do-do

    They have lost recently in South Korea and are being sued by several other governments for their business practices as well as the US FTC.

    As they say, 'there is no smoke without fire' and 'there is something rotten in the state of QC'.

    Apple isn't squeaky clean by any means but to have several countries taking you to court (as in the case of QC), they can't all be wrong as evidenced by the loss in SK.

    QC are also on shaky ground in the USA after the recent Supreme Court case with Lexmark and refilling printer cartridges. They came down against Lexmark for what one poster has mentioned 'double dipping'.

    i.e. Charging a license to use the IP in a product AND wanting to charge it again and again for each refill. The court said that the license went with the product and not the Cartridge.

    I guess that this is what Apple are hoping applies to them. Other users of QC chips will be looking on with interest (and might be tacitly supporting QC)

  10. pauleverett

    Karma

    When I read this headline, I heard the voice of angels singing. it was glorious.

    cheers

    Samsumg

    p.s. big party at my place, Saturday.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Karma

      "When I read this headline, I heard the voice of angels singing. it was glorious.

      cheers

      Samsumg

      p.s. big party at my place, Saturday."

      You know that Samsung has exactly the same problem with Qualcomm and is in court with them? So in this particular case, we can be sure that Samsung is siding with Apple and Apple siding with Samsung.

  11. Detective Emil

    IANAL

    The FTC is investigating Qualcom for possible monopolistic practices involving, inter alia, “an anticompetitive tax on the use of rivals’ processors”. There’s also a good chance that, if Intel considered that it needed to use the techniques described in Qualcom's patents in its baseband silicon, it licensed them, so exhausting Qualcom’s right to collect on its IP. Consequently, I don’t think this is likely to fly at the ITC. (If Intel hasn’t licensed the patents, yet is infringing, it could be argued that this is a result of different anticompetitive behaviour suspected by the FTC, namely that Qualcom “refuses to license standard-essential patents to competitors” — although Qualcom is careful to claim that these particular patents are not SE). And yes, Qualcom could go after Intel if it hasn’t licensed the patents, but patent law means it can go after whom the hell it likes (or, in this case, dislikes more).

  12. IHateWearingATie
    Gimp

    You missed the REAL story...

    Apple press office actually responded to your request for comment. Is there a thaw in relations?

    (probably not if you keep calling them the Cupertino idiot tax operation)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't get it...

    Intel are claimed to be using protected IP in their product, but Apple are being taken to court?

    1. Glen Turner 666

      Re: I don't get it...

      "Intel are claimed to be using protected IP in their product, but Apple are being taken to court?"

      Yep. You are thinking along the right track. If you buy a chip from I, and they've used Q's invention without a patent license, then I is the only party from which Q can gain satisfaction. You, as the purchaser of I's phyical product, have no liability (which isn't as great as it sounds, as the settlement between I and Q might well remove from the market the product you purchased, thus lowering its usefulness).

      But to this we add the ITC. They can prevent import of a product into the USA based upon a claim of patent infringement. Now toss in some sharp business practice by Q: they ask you for a patent license. Now you can respond "no", upon which Q says "it would be a shame if we made an allegation of patent infringement to the ITC". Now you could choose to fight this out, and win. But a win is not useful if you have been forbidden from selling your widgets for the years the court system can take. So you pay Q.

      Moreover Apple are complaining that Qualcomm aren't just seeking at patent license based on the price of the radio chip (bugger all) but based on the price of the iPhone. That is, the patent license fee covers the inventions of others too. That's cuteness by Apple -- you can base a patent license fee on the phase of the moon -- but all the same it is an appealing argument.

  14. DougS Silver badge

    These patents are interesting

    They are not FRAND, so they're separate from the previous allegations. Some of them aren't even related to cellular - one is a GPU patent, etc. But here's the problem - Apple has patents of its own, and while design patents for stuff like rounded corners on icons have been the subject of Apple's lawsuits, Apple has "real" patents too. I doubt they'd have to look too hard to find CPU patents they hold that Qualcomm's Snapdragon cores violate, or patents related to other parts of the SoC like image processing or touchscreen digitizer sensing.

    That's the thing with patents, they're so easy to get (I'm sure most of what Qualcomm has here would seem "obvious" to those skilled in those particular arts) and it would be impossible to design any sort of complex CPU, GPU, SoC etc. without violating patents. You'd spend some much time with IP lawyers needing to approve everything you do is patent free it would take 50 years to complete your design!

    Apple could easily come back on Qualcomm with a similar list of a half dozen patents that they're violating, and countersue. I expect they will do exactly that. I don't think this will have the impact Qualcomm expects, and it'll end up coming down to the battle Apple wants to fight and Qualcomm does not want to fight - whether they can get away with charging for FRAND patents as a percentage of device cost.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: These patents are interesting

      "That's the thing with patents, they're so easy to get"

      Is it too much to hope that the US patent system collapses under its own weight? Perhaps someone could patent something the USPO depends on* and refuse to license it to them.

      That would make it prior art, you say? That seems to have very little to do with it.

  15. TiddlyPom

    What about (say) the threat by Intel to sue Qualcomm and Microsoft over x86 emulation technology in Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips (as an example)? If you want to take part in a fight then expect to be hurt. I suspect that the chickens are coming home to roost and more and more litigious US companies will find themselves (in turn) being sued by other non-US companies who are fed up with being bullied over obvious anti-competitive practices. It is about time that the whole patent/IP/copyright shenanigans was overhauled. It is so obviously being used to stifle competition across the globe (primarily by western companies). I expect a lot more attacks on household name companies like Apple if they continue to play as unfairly as they have in the past.

  16. lotus49

    It couldn't happen between a nicer pair of companies.

    I hope they both lose.

  17. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "Apple....using Intel's 4G wireless chips..."

    Seems weird to leap past Intel.

    Could they also leap past Apple and sue (for example) Fred who is using his iPhone?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: sue Fed?

      Don't give the Laywers ideas. When one thinks it is a good idea the rest will follow suit. Who but the very every very rich will be able to afford to fight the cases. So people will roll over, pay the fine and vow to never buy anything that contains QC stuff again.

      The Lawyers won't car, they'll be planning what Island paradise to buy next.

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