Sunday, July 22, 2018

Qualcomm's own experts concede Intel's baseband chipsets are good for innovation and pricing

At this stage, the Northern District of California is a standard-essential patent (SEP) litigation hotbed. The previous post was about Huawei's shrinking case against Samsung, but there are some extremely interesting developments in a consumer class lawsuit against Qualcomm, related to FTC v. Qualcomm. Late last month, the consumer plaintiffs brought a motion to bar Qualcomm from enforcing a potential U.S. import ban against certain (in practical terms, Intel-powered) iPhones. Qualcomm filed its opposition brief on July 12 (this post continues below the document):

18-07-12 Qualcomm's Opposition to Consumers' PI Motion by Florian Mueller on Scribd

Qualcomm's legal arguments against the motion involve timing (the same consumer plaintiffs had filed a public interest statement with the ITC a long time ago, thus they knew about the ITC case, but waited until recently to thwart Qualcomm's pursuit of an exclusion order, i.e., U.S. import ban), standing (whether those consumers are harmed or not), the preliminary injunction factors, whether an ITC case involving non-SEPs has a bearing on an antitrust case involving SEPs, the ability of a district court (under the All Writs Act) to prevent an ITC plaintiff from enforcing an exclusion order, and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, according to which litigation does not constitute an antitrust violation in its own right. In similar contexts in recent years, U.S. courts have consistently not deemed the enforcement of injunctions to be covered by Noerr-Pennington. The difference between SEPs and non-SEPs is also at issue (but hasn't been addressed yet by a court of law) in Qualcomm's German cases against Apple, but the heart of the issue is not a FRAND licensing commitment and the related rights of third-party beneficiaries: it's all about forcing competitors like Intel out of a market.

Qualcomm's timing-related arguments appear potentially more interesting to me than the other points it makes, but Qualcomm does contradict itself in that context. Qualcomm says:

"Here, any possible injury to Plaintiffs depends upon an attenuated chain of events transpiring. The exclusion order must issue, the presidential review period must pass, the investigation must result in actual exclusion of the accused iPhones, and the exclusion order must leave Apple with no reasonable opportunity to 'design around' the patents at issue. Such an attenuated 'chain of inferences' cannot confer standing."

Apart from the fact that everything on that list is precisely what Qualcomm is pursuing (it naturally wants to prevail, it would seek to dissuade the Trump Administration from a veto, and it seeks leverage from patents that it hopes cannot be designed around, at least not without incurring a prohibitive cost), Qualcomm itself blames those consumers in the timing context for not having brought their motion for a preliminary antisuit injunction a year ago--but consumers argue that there was a possibility at the time of Qualcomm's case not making any headway, and only now that the ITC staff has lately recommended (at the ITC hearing) to hold Apple in violation of one Qualcomm patent, there was a clear and present danger of anticompetitive effects and, therefore, consumers believe their motion was warranted.

From an industry point of view, the consumers' reply brief contains some very interesting quotes from the aforementioned ITC hearing, showing that even Qualcomm's own expert witnesses had no way of denying that Intel's efforts to compete with Qualcomm in the mobile baseband chipset market are good for innovation and choice (this post continues below the document):

18-07-19 Consumers' Reply in Support of PI Motion by Florian Mueller on Scribd

The most interesting passages of the reply brief are about the question of whether the fact that Intel is at least trying hard to compete with Qualcomm in the mobile baseband chipset market benefits consumers. At the recent ITC hearing, ITC staff lawyer Lisa Murray said:

"If Intel is taken out of the 5G race, this would slow the pace of U.S. innovation."

That assessment, which is actually just common sense, will serve as a silver bullet in the further proceedings.

But even Qualcomm's own expert witnesses in the ITC proceedings felt forced to concede that Intel's competing baseband chipsets make an important difference:

  • One Qualcomm expert conceded that the Intel-based iPhone "is the only top-tier phone that currently uses a competing company's chip."

  • A Qualcomm expert also agreed that the "two premium chipset providers based right here in the U.S. are Qualcomm and Intel" and that "every top-echelon smartphone that could potentially serve as a consumer substitute for iPhones blocked from the U.S. uses Qualcomm’s modem chip, with the exception of some Samsung phones that use chips built in-house."

  • And here comes the most impressive passage from the expert witness testimony:

    "Q. In fact, you agree that having Intel as a competitor in that market is good for competition; correct? A. I do agree. Q. Having Intel as a competitor in that premium chipset market is good for quality of chipsets; correct? A. Generally competition is good, yeah. Q. And competition from Intel in particular is good; correct? A. Yes. Q. It's good for pricing; correct? A. Yes. Q. It's good for innovation; correct? A. Yes. Q. Good for innovation as we move into 5G; right? A. Yes. Q. Which is an absolutely critical market for the country as a whole; correct? A. Certainly for Qualcomm, yeah. We believe it is, yeah. Q. And it's good to have Qualcomm in that market; right? A. Yeah, that's right. Q. And it's good to have Intel there too? A. Yes. Q. It's good for the public? A. I agree. Q. Good for the public interest? A. I agree."

    "Good for the public interest" to have not only Qualcomm but also Intel in that market--quite an important concession.

  • One last quote:

    "Two companies competing in this premium baseband chipset market in the U.S. is better than one monopolist for the public interest; correct? A. Well, as a general proposition, yes."

Unlike Samsung, Intel supplies other companies with its baseband chipsets and would like to sell to as many customers as possible, with Apple being its key reference customer. The consumers' reply brief notes that "only the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S6 devices contain an Exynos System-on-a-Chip" (Exynos is Samsung's mobile chipset brand), while "[t]he Verizon and Sprint Samsung devices contain Qualcomm chips."

In light of all of that, it's not hard to see why Qualcomm would like to force Intel out of the market as soon as possible. But what follows from the above admissions by Qualcomm's own expert witnesses is that this would be bad for innovation and harm consumers in two respects (less innovation and higher prices).

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"Huawei, I shrunk the case": scope of December patent trial against Samsung whittled down

This week in Huawei v. Samsung delivered two more sethacks for the Chinese Android device maker and increasingly aggressive patent enforcer (I don't want to call them a "patent bully" just yet, though it may be an appropriate label at a later stage).

First, he trial that Judge William H. Orrick will preside over in the Northern District of California in December is going to be far narrower, and potentially less impactful, than Huawei had hoped. As I had noted toward the end of this recent post, Huawei previously informed of the court of its willingness to withdraw its request for a declaratory judgment on worldwide FRAND licensing terms to its standard-essential patents, subject to an agreement with Samsung on the specifics. That agreement has indeed materialized, suggesting that Huawei saw a high risk of Judge Orrick throwing out the claim (whose dismissal Samsung was already formally seeking) at any rate. Instead of having to make a decision, Judge Orrick merely had to grant the parties' stipulation of a dismissal that is formally without prejudice, allowing Huawei to try again, but only in a different case and not for at least nine months (this post continues below the document):

18-07-18 Stipulated Dismissal of Huawei-Samsung FRAND Claim by Florian Mueller on Scribd

Just last month, Huawei's offensive case already got narrowed as Judge Orrick, in a matter involving the Supreme Court's recent SAS ruling, stayed two patent infringement claims. So all that's left for the December trial is a bunch of patent infringement claims and the question of a potential breach of a FRAND licensing commitment. Huawei portrays Samsung as an unwilling licensee, and Samsung argues that Huawei's demands are unreasonable and that there hasn't been enough progress of the give-and-take kind.

The second thing that didn't go too well for Huawei this week was its attempt to expedite its Ninth Circuit appeal before the Federal Circuit of the antisuit (more specifically, anti-injunction-enforcement) injunction Samsung obtained three months ago. Huawei was using two procedural attack vectors in parallel, seeking a reconsideration of Judge Orrick's decision in district court while pursuing the aforementioned appeal in Washington, D.C.--but the Federal Circuit told Huawei it should firstly await resolution of its motion in San Francisco. After Judge Orrick's decision to uphold the injunction, Huawei informed the Federal Circuit, which then resumed the proceedings, and Huawei, before even filing an opening brief that isn't publicly accessible yet, brought an emergency motion to expedite the appeal.

Samsung opposed this emergency motion, arguing that Huawei's procedural tactics had caused delay and pointing to the prejudicial effects of having to respond to a Huawei opening brief on a tight schedule, three months after the notice of appeal (meaning Huawei had plenty of time to prepare its argument) and while working hard on some motion practice in the district court case the appeal originated from. The Federal Circuit told Huawei to be patient and suggested that it could file its reply brief as soon as possible--ahead of the court's deadline--after Samsung has had the chance to react to the opening brief. The appeals court will then hold a hearing as soon as possible, but just like Judge Orrick, it doesn't accomodate all of Huawei's procedural preferences.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Shareholder class actions against Qualcomm over frustrated Broadcom merger may turn on secrecy of CFIUS proceedings

Before we get to the actual topic of this post, a quick follow-up to the previous one: the Deseret News reports that President Trump has interviewed Senator Mike Lee, so the possibility of a FRAND-friendly Supreme Court Justice is real (though other candidates have been interviewed as well).

Last week, an interesting class action complaint was brought against Qualcomm in the Northern District of California by a group of consumers, with the class being defined broadly enough to include any U.S. smartphone buyer. I've run a couple of online searches and found that there's a whole bunch of other class lawsuits pending against Qualcomm, and they're all about Broadcom's acquisition of Qualcomm, which couldn't materialize after a presidential veto.

Many complaints were filed by small firms, but I've also found some complaints that were filed by firms with a strong track recordin securities litigation. Here's a particularly well-crafted complaint by the Pomerantz firm, which a United States District Judge called "some of the best lawyers in the United States, if not in the world" and which recently achieved the largest securities class action settlement in a decade as Petrobras coughed up $3 billion (this post continues below the document):

18 06 26 Jadhav Complaint by Florian Mueller on Scribd

I've also uploaded another complaint filed in the Southern District of California and a March complaint filed with the Delaware Chancery Court to Scribd. The Delaware complaint argued that Qualcomm's directors made an end-run around Delaware corporate law by seeking a presidential veto against a vote on the composition of Qualcomm's board.

Qualcomm's directors and officers now have to defend themselves against accusations that they "defrauded" the market by not disclosing their company's secret request that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) preclude Broadcom from acquiring Qualcomm (and, on the way to that destination, getting deal-friendly board members voted in). Failure to disclose material information of this kind can constitute securities fraud and give rise to insider-trading claims.

One doesn't have to be an expert in securities law to understand that Qualcomm's request for a presidential veto was very significant. However, the fact that something very significant wasn't disclosed isn't necessarily sufficient. As a patent litigation watcher I obviously find it inconsistent that a company would publish an infographic to announce and promote a patent infringement complaint, but would remain silent about its volunary request that the CFIUS initiate an investigation into Broadcom's unsolicited takeover bid. But that's just a personal opinion.

Qualcomm hasn't filed its answer to the complaints yet. It has merely sought an extension, especially since a number of parallel actions need to be consolidated.

The most interesting legal question will be whether Qualcomm's leadership--which was undoubtedly pursuing an agenda of entrenchment--had a stronger obligation to protect the confidentiality of its CFIUS request (in the interest of the United States) than to inform actual or prospective shareholders.

The website of the Department of the Treasury says the following:

"Confidentiality

In reviewing a transaction, CFIUS considers national security matters and commercially sensitive information provided by the parties. By law, information filed with CFIUS is subject to strong confidentiality requirements that prohibit disclosure to the public. Accordingly, CFIUS does not disclose whether parties to any transaction have filed notices with CFIUS, nor does CFIUS disclose the results of any review. When a transaction is referred to the President, however, the decision of the President is announced publicly."

None of that says that Qualcomm couldn't have told shareholders of the mere fact that it made a request for a CFIUS review (aiming to obtain, as Qualcomm did, a presidential veto). However, courts may still prioritize the national security interests of the United States over the obligation of publicly-traded companies to disclose certain material information.

In the further process, the parties will have to find apposite cases. Also, the United States' federal government might support Qualcomm on this one in case the Trump Administration feels that companies secretly raising national security concerns should not have to fear shareholder lawsuits.

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