Thursday, February 8, 2018

Judge Koh sets aside sanctions order against Apple in FTC v. Qualcomm antitrust case

This is a quick follow-up to last week's post on an amicus curiae brief by Lawyers for Civil Justice:

Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California has granted an Apple motion for relief from a non-dispositive order by Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins, who imposed sanctions on Apple for failure to timely provide documents sought by Qualcomm in its defense against the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust lawsuit. Here's Judge Koh's order (this post continues below the document):

18-02-07 Order Setting Aside Sanctions Order by Florian Mueller on Scribd

The matter is remanded to Magistrate Judge Cousins because Judge Koh found it legally erroneous that he based his sanctions order on Apple on a procedural rule that applies to parties, while Apple is technically a non-party to the FTC-Qualcomm case. As Judge Koh notes, Apple has its own antitrust litigation against Qualcomm pending, but that's a different case (even in a different district, though that's not a requirement for Apple to be a non-party to FTC v. Qualcomm).

Apple could still be sanctioned, but in order to do so, Magistrate Judge Cousins would have to come up with a legal theory that applies to non-parties. He could now just find that there is no legal basis to treat a non-party so harshly, in which case Apple's appeal to Judge Koh would have succeeded (though Qualcomm might still pursue sanctions in that case, but with a greatly diminished likelihood of success). There's a good chance that things will end that way. In the event Magistrate Judge Cousins bases a new sanctions order on a different statute, the amount of sanctions would likely be lower, and in any event, Apple could take this matter back to Judge Koh, who after finding legal error didn't have to reach the propriety and amount of the sanctions imposed--and, more likely than not, won't have to anymore.

Apple is indeed a party to other Qualcomm cases. For example, the Munich I Regional Court will hold a Qualcomm v. Apple patent infringement hearing--not yet a trial, but a discussion of key outcome-determinative issues--in a few hours. Presiding Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann, one of Germany's leading patent judges, will hear the parties' arguments, with Qualcomm claiming that Apple's iPhones using Intel chips (at least that's what Qualcomm's public statements and its litigation strategy for the United States International Trade Commission indicate) infringe European Patent EP2724461 on a low-voltage power-efficient envelope tracker. This is just one of various cases pending in Germany. The Mannheim Regional Court informed me of hearings scheduled for June, September, and October, over three different European patents--and it's unclear whether today's patent-in-suit is the only one Qualcomm is asserting in Munich (Qualcomm originally announced one Mannheim lawsuit and now I'm aware of three).

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