Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Rumor: Apple modifying iPhone 7 and 8 to work around Qualcomm's German patent injunction

Based on yesterday's summary judgment decision by Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and a previous decision by the ITC to the same effect, there is every indication that the Germany-wide patent injunction Qualcomm obtained against Apple's iPhone 7 and 8 in December is a miscarriage of justice. And there is a possibility of the appeals court staying enforcement of the injunction Qualcomm would most likely never have won if it had not been uncooperative with respect to the chipset schematics of the accused envelope tracker made by Qorvo.

But if today's rumor of a workaround is true, it appears that Qualcomm's "leverage" from the ill-gotten injunction is soon going to be zero at any rate. In that event, activist shareholders might demand that Qualcomm immediately withdraw its $1.5 billion deposit since there must be better ways to use shareholders' money.

German website WinFuture is in frequent contact with German retailers as it operates a price comparison service. While this has not yet been confirmed by any official source, WinFuture has learned that Apple will purportedly start shipping in about a month from now some new variants of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 in Germany. Those new models won't contain Qorvo's accused (though most likely non-infringing) envelope tracker chip, but some other chipset replacing it.

What makes this story particularly credible besides the reputation WinFuture generally enjoys in Germany is that WinFuture has already identified the new iPhone model numbers. For instance, the new variant of the black 128 GB iPhone 7 is MN482ZD/A.

Qualcomm's attempts to gain decisive leverage over Apple have failed miserably so far. There is every indication that the San Diego Apple et al. v. Qualcomm trial--with tens of billions of dollars at stake--will go forward. Tim Cook himself made it clear last month that a settlement is not in sight.

Last week's motion for contempt sanctions against Apple in Germany appears to be driven primarily by public and investor relations considerations. Should Winfuture's identification of upcoming workarounds be true (again, I tend to believe them), the contempt proceedings are just going to be a waste of time and money.

Not only has Qualcomm failed to coerce a settlement but the way it has handled its infringement cases has also been negative for its reputation. There have been serious issues with unreliable expert witnesses on both sides of the Atlantic. And the patent injunction Qualcomm won in Munich would almost certainly not have come down if Qualcomm had not prevented the court and the court-appointed expert from getting access to the facts.

[Update] Macwelt (Macworld's German sister publication) just published a German-language article of mine in which I explain what went wrong in Munich but right in the two U.S. proceedings. That article also discusses Qualcomm's motion for contempt sanctions. [/Update]

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