Qualcomm's U.S. ITC Complaint Falling Apart as Apple Implements Workaround in iOS 12.1

Back in 2017, Qualcomm filed a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) accusing Apple's iPhones of infringing on six Qualcomm patents.

Qualcomm was hoping to ban imports of select iPhone and iPad models using Intel modems, but as it turns out, the company's efforts have been a poor use of time and money.

qualcomm iphone 7
As outlined by FOSS Patents, in a recent filing with the ITC Apple said that it has implemented an iOS 12.1 workaround to one key patent in the complaint, U.S. Patent No. 9,535,490, which covers "power saving techniques in computing devices."

Apple said that it introduced changes in iOS 12.1 to make sure that it does not violate the '490 patent, though the company claims the original design wasn't in violation to begin with.

Qualcomm's own Chief Technology Officer has said that there are alternate design options to skirt the '490 patent, which Apple submits as evidence that the '490 patent should not be valid in the ITC complaint.

Qualcomm's presentation at the hearing crystallized its theories regarding the scope and coverage of claim 31 of the '490 patent. Against that backdrop, Apple recently changed its software (i.e., iOS) to remove the functionality that Qualcomm has accused of infringing claim 31, by implementing a design change that Qualcomm's own witnesses conceded would fall outside the scope of the patent. [...]

This fall, after the close of the hearing record, Apple implemented a new software-based design for its Accused '490 Products that removed the accused UL/DL synchronization feature that Qualcomm emphasized could be 'simply remove[d]' to avoid infringement of the '490 patent. To be clear, the pre-change versions also do not infringe the '490 patent, and thus there is no legal need to 'design around' it. But to moot any possible allegation of infringement from Qualcomm, Apple changed its products to do precisely what Qualcomm's own witnesses testified would not infringe the '490 patent."

According to FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller, given Qualcomm's prior comments about the ease of implementing a suitable workaround, Qualcomm won't be able to credibly dispute Apple's plan.

Qualcomm's original ITC complaint against Apple mentioned "six inventions" iPhones use that infringed on Qualcomm patents, but as FOSS Patents outlines in the handy infographic below, many are no longer valid.

qualcommfosspatents
Qualcomm has dropped three of the six patents, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the case said that Apple did not infringe on another two, and as for the last, it's the one that Apple added a workaround for in iOS 12.1.

Given the weakness of Qualcomm's complaint, the company is not likely to win its case, and even if it does, it won't cover Apple's iPhones that have the iOS 12.1 software update.

Apple and Qualcomm will go to trial over the original dispute in April, with Qualcomm having been unable to establish leverage over Apple thus far with its U.S. ITC complaints. Apple and Qualcomm will be fighting over royalty payments and anticompetitive patent licensing practices.

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Top Rated Comments

Cosmosent Avatar
70 months ago
Anybody who has ever worked on OR reviewed Patent Apps knows full-well that ALOT of patent apps get approved that should NOT.

And for those that do, ~50% are fairly-easily worked around.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
idmean Avatar
70 months ago
So it's fine to infringe on patents, sell the devices and software, and then quickly do a workaround when caught?
Apple said that it introduced changes in iOS 12.1 to make sure that it does not violate the '490 patent, though the company claims the original design wasn't in violation to begin with.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JPack Avatar
70 months ago
So it's fine to infringe on patents, sell the devices and software, and then quickly do a workaround when caught?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Sasparilla Avatar
70 months ago
Just saw another article detailing how Google is adding to its chipmaking expertise with new hiring. Because of its lack of vision (smartphone CPU's - sitting on its only CPU for 3 years) and how unpleasant a company it is to deal with - Qualcomm will be lucky to exist in the smartphone CPU market in 5 years (Samsung and Huawei already make their own CPU's, throw out a Google smartphone CPU for the general market and it'll be game over for Qualcomm).
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Carnegie Avatar
70 months ago
So it's fine to infringe on patents, sell the devices and software, and then quickly do a workaround when caught?
Apple was only found (by an administrative law judge) to have infringed one out of the six patents originally asserted. And the ITC decided to review that infringement finding, so it may not have stood anyway.

That said, not all infringement is knowing or intentional. Even if Apple was actually infringing one of the patents, it might not have realized that it was doing so. It might not have been aware of the possibility or it might have reasonably believed it didn't infringe. Given that it was able to work around the patent it allegedly infringed, there's a good chance it previously didn't think it was infringing.

Anyway, here's one of the problems with what Qualcomm did in the past. (I don't know whether it's relevant with regard to the patents at issue here, but it could be.) One of the things Qualcomm used to do (as alleged by parties other than Apple and as found by regulatory bodies) is refuse to tell licensees which patents they were licensing. It wouldn't tell them what they were paying for. So a company like Apple might not be aware that something it was doing would, if it effectively stopped making royalty payments, be infringing Qualcomm patents.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
FloatingBones Avatar
70 months ago

This was invalidated.
My point was valid. The "method of moving on a swing ('https://patents.google.com/patent/US6368227B1/en')" should never have been approved in the first place -- as it was done in April of 2002. Claims were only invalidated after the media had a field day with this. Someone was asleep at the wheel -- or maybe snoozing on a swing.

The US patent system is patently broken.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)