The Munich I Regional Court ("Landgericht München I" in German) just announced the first final judgment on a Qualcomm v. Apple patent infringement complaint anywhere in the world. Apple (and, by extension, Intel) fended off one of various Qualcomm patent infringement lawsuits.The court agreed with Apple's claim construction.
A few months after the Federal Trade Commission of the United States and, in a separate case, Apple sued Qualcomm over antitrust and contract-related matters in January 2017, the San Diego-based company that dominates the market for cellular baseband chips started a patent infringement lawsuit campaign against the iPhone maker in the U.S., Germany, and China. Qualcomm wanted to kick off the German "rulings season" with a Mannheim injunction--and got a Munich rejection.
A three-judge panel--composed of Judge Dr. Schoen ("Schön" in German), who filled in for Presiding Judge Dr. Zigann at last week's trial, and Judges Klein and Schmitz--held that Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus do not infringe Qualcomm's European patent EP1199750 on a "post[-]passivation interconnection scheme on top of [an] IC chip."
I missed last week's trial, but attended the first hearing in May. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's Prince Wolrad of Waldeck and Pyrmont was Apple's lead counsel with respect to its (now victorious) non-infringement contentions then and presumably also last week. He's a familiar face at German Apple patent hearings and trials, as are several other attorneys at law and patent attorneys. The patent attorneys also represent Intel in parallel nullity and opposition proceedings before the Federal Patent Court and European Patent Office, respectively. Qualcomm is represented in Germany by a team of Quinn Emanuel lawyers led by Dr. Marcus Grosch. He's a tremendous fighter in every sense of the word and will probably appeal this decision to the Munich Higher Regional Court ("Oberlandesgericht München" in German). However, the fact that the ruling came down just one week after trial--normally it takes several weeks, and in complex cases even months--suggests that Apple had a non-infringement argument that made this a very clear case once all the facts and theories were on the table, so chances are that Prince of Waldeck will be able to defend his victory on appeal. Also, the patent may be considerably closer to invalidation by the time of an appellate hearing.
Qualcomm is increasingly unlikely to gain leverage over Apple in the near term:
A final initial determination (subject to Commission review) by an Administrative Law Judge at the USITC identified an infringement of one valid Qualcomm patent (out of six originally asserted patents) but recommended that no exclusion order (U.S. import ban) be ordered in light of Qualcomm's anticompetitive conduct targeting its only major competitor, Intel. And when Qualcomm's second ITC case against Apple went to trial, the Office of Unfair Import Investigations (commonly referred to as "the ITC staff"), which participates in many investigations as a third party, took the position that there is no infringement and, even if one was ultimately identified, an import ban would be against the public interest in light of Qualcomm's anticompetitive motivation. Staff recommendations aren't binding, but most of the time they are adopted.
Another Munich case than the one decided today went to trial two weeks earlier, with a decision scheduled for December. In my view, the iPhone's Spotlight search doesn't even practice all claim limitations if properly construed. The patent is also of highly questionable validity (Qualcomm already had to modify the claim, and the alleged differentiation over the prior art appears non-technical). And in any event, iOS 12 contains a workaround, rendering a hypothetical injunction inconsequential.
A third Munich case was heard in February and will go to trial on November 8. As I looked at the title of that patent again, I noticed--and got confirmation by Google Patents--that the case is about an envelope tracker patent the U.S. counterpart of which is not infringed according to the ITC's final initial determination.
Last week I explained why Qualcomm's patent suit campaign is also in bad shape in another German venue, Mannheim. In the first case that went to trial there, Qualcomm felt forced to stipulate to a stay as the patent is likely invalid. In the second Mannheim case, over a switch patent, the court outlined an approach to claim construction that might result in a non-infringement holding; and that patent is simply invalid in the recently-published opinion of an examiner of the Swedish Patent Office. And the third Mannheim case is headed for a stay as Qualcomm's attempt to modify claims to differentiate a claimed invention from the prior art (not the only such case...) is "devoid of technical substance" according to the Mannheim court.
Qualcomm has meanwhile filed additional patent infringement complaints in Germany. It will keep trying, but realistically it won't be able to force Apple into a settlement before some key antitrust, contract and patent exhaustion questions are resolved in the United States.
I will soon write in a separate post about Munich as a patent litigation venue. The court is still very efficient (as evidenced by the speed with which it resolved the case decided today), but facing resource constraints stakeholders should be concerned about.
I've asked the court's press office for a redacted copy of today's judgment and may go into more detail--in a follow-up post to this one--if and when I've obtained it. I prepared only for this scenario (non-infringement) and a stay (over validity concerns) in light of the short time between trial and decision--simply too short to resolve all defenses including antitrust. That assumption was right and enabled me to publish this post right after the announcement (though without technical detail).
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