back to article US trade watchdog, mobe makers queue to smack Qualcomm as antitrust trilogy opens

The first of three major trials this spring involving Qualcomm has opened in Silicon Valley, with phone makers chipping in... no pun intended. Apple has filed its own barrage of litigation against Qualcomm, and so have consumers in a $5bn class-action lawsuit [PDF] – but first on the block is the FTC’s attempt to force …

  1. Andrew Commons

    Patently ridiculous?

    So Qualcomm owns the patents, there seems to be no dispute about that. Ownership of the patents provides control over the use of the technology. Qualcomm exercises those rights to maximise it's revenue, as you would, and then has to defend itself in civil court because it holds some really good patents.

    Does this sort of shit happen in other domains, Pharmaceuticals for instance?

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Patently ridiculous?

      Sure, but then Qualcomm gets its IP into public standards, then refuses to let people use the bits that make it actually work without paying through the nose.

      1. Andrew Commons

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        So they are clever business men as well??

        It would seem that those who created the public standards created this problem then.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: Patently ridiculous?

          Many standard bodies require participants to declare patents that would cover a developing standard. The penalty for lying about submarine patents is a harsh scolding and lots of royalties.

          1. Andrew Commons

            Re: Patently ridiculous?

            I think Qualcomm were open about their patents and the standards.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Patently ridiculous?

              Patents, by definition, are open and published for all to see.

      2. tooltalk

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        Well, chip makers like Mediatek are not required to license Qualcomm's patents to make chips. Qualcomm like all other wirelss patent holders collectsr oyalties from the end-device makers as a common industry practice.

      3. tooltalk

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        Qualcomm's practice of collecting royalties from end-product makers at system level vs. component makers is norm in the wireless industry and has been for decades. The component makers like Mediatek in turn are not required to license them and use / manufacture / sell chips to end-product makers. This presumably allows new entrant to enter market freely and, therefore, increases market competition.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Patently ridiculous?

      The most obvious dispute is about patent validity. Mathematics is not patentable. Software is a branch of mathematics so software patents should be invalid. The US courts are slowly getting this bashed into their heads with a clew bat but only if the case reaches SCOTUS and then only the minimum possible precedent is set. In the EU you can patent software if you call it a "computer implemented invention".

      As far as I know, patents are abused at every opportunity no matter what the domain. The default 20 year term has not been sane for decades. In some domains you can find an alternate solution but for phones you need compatibility for a modem to be useful.

      1. Boohoo4u

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        You lost me on “Software is a branch of mathematics so software patents should be invalid”.

        That means if you happen upon Microsoft’s source code, you could slap another name on it, and sell it for zxy and it would be perfectly legal. Until someone else does the same and undercuts you...

        The “secret sauce” of almost all modern devices is the software. You take the protection away, and you’ll have economic chaos, and a free for all as everyone attempts to pirate (steal) from everyone else.

        Data is also a form of mathematics, so is currency, DNA, etc.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Patently ridiculous?

          No, software can be copyrighted, no one disputes that. If you happen upon their source code you can't put another name on it any more than you can put another name on Harry Potter books and sell them yourself.

      2. Andrew Commons

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        Isn't this is about hardware rather than software? From my reading of the Reg piece Intel can, and do, manufacture compatible modems without treading on Qualcomm patents. These modems presumably comply with the standards and are used by major players.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Patently ridiculous?

          > Isn't this is about hardware rather than software?

          It is about patented methods that can be implemented in ASICs, FPGAs, DSPs, CPUs, GPUs or discrete electronics. The patents rarely talk about software in the claims but instead claim a method for doing something and a corresponding system or device for performing the steps of the method claims.

          If someone invents a clever electronic circuit they do not want people to get around that patent by implementing it in software. And for FPGAs the distinction between hardware and software is a bit fuzzy, especially when the FPGA is reconfigurable on the fly.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Patently ridiculous?

      Does this sort of shit happen in other domains, Pharmaceuticals for instance?

      Seems that being a patent troll (even if you manufactur) is big business. Large corporations are sucking up patents quite a bit of late. It's not just tech companies. Seems there's a business model that if you own patents, the license fees will make a nice profit even after legal expenses. Look up Martin Shkrell and Turing Pharmaceuticals for some drug shenanigans.

      I just noticed. here's another story about patent trolls and licenses.. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/01/08/wilan_apple_lawsuit/

      Shakespeare was right about what should be done with lawyers.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Patently ridiculous?

      > Does this sort of shit happen in other domains, Pharmaceuticals for instance?

      Patents granted in the fields of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals etc. are routinely challenged through all possible instances. CRISPR/Cas9 is a huge battlefield. It is in the news if you care to look for it.

      And that is the thing, people want or demand even the latest cool tech and the latest medical inventions to cure their ills. They do not want to pay for the work to develop these things. It was a long journey from GSM to 5G and a lot of work but many people went into this. And they would like to get paid for their work.

      I used to be a researcher and found the gap between pay and expectations to be a bit much, more than was healthy for my student debt.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Patently ridiculous?

        One downvote just goes to prove that people still think researchers should no be paid.

        1. Andrew Commons

          Re: Patently ridiculous?

          Actually it shows that people do not think the investment companies make in developing ground breaking technologies and turning them into a successful market should be returned to those companies along with a profit. This enables them to pay the researchers and continue their research and so continue to employ and pay researchers.

  2. mark l 2 Silver badge

    The phone manufacturers have got to take some blame for the situation by signing exclusivity contracts with Qualcomm that forbids them sourcing from other suppliers without having to pay more for Qualcomm parts.

    If one of the other 4G modem suppliers don't have these clauses in their contracts, why not just go with Intel or someone else from the beginning than get involved with Qualcomm?

    Being locked in to one supplier is never a good idea, if that supplier raises prices or has inventory shortages it directly effects your bottom line.

    1. Andrew Commons

      Well exactly. And bundle pricing is a feature used everywhere not just in this business.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      What choice did the phone OEMs have? At the time, Qualcomm was the ONLY source for chips compliant with the US spec version of CDMA. Since that's not something that came from a standards organization, FRAND rules/pricing don't apply. Basically if you wanted to be able to sell phones that were usable by half the US market, you had to deal with Qualcomm. The only major OEMs who didn't have to talk to Qualcomm were Chinese players who didn't sell in the US market.

      Samsung was the only major worldwide phone OEM that was able to work around that, but that's because they also hold a lot of LTE patents and couldn't be pushed around quite as easily as the others.

      Who do you blame for Microsoft's monopoly abuse in the 90s, when they made PC OEMs pay for a Windows license for every PC sold, even if they didn't include Windows? Is that on Dell, who would basically have had to shutter if they couldn't get a deal with Microsoft to sell PCs running Windows? Or is it on Microsoft, who insisted on those terms?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > What choice did the phone OEMs have?

        Nobody enters a contract without both seeing something to gain. What happened here is that the OEM's saw something to gain by entering the contracts and later more to gain by trying to get out of the payments commitments they had entered. These are major companies with large legal departments so they knew perfectly well what they signed.

        In some countries negotiations are hard but you know they will honor their word without trying to weasle out of it. It is not like that in all countries.

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