Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Apple and Qualcomm settle their antitrust/FRAND/patent dispute: clash of California tech giants is amicably resolved

Opening statements in the Apple, Foxconn et al. v. Qualcomm antitrust trial in San Diego (Southern District of California) were ongoing when CNBC broke the news of a settlement. A little later it was confirmed by Apple's newsroom: All pending lawsuits between Apple and Qualcomm, and Apple's contract manufacturers and Qualcomm, have been dismissed.

There is a new patent license agreement as well as a new chipset supply deal in place. In other words, California's two mobile hardware giants--Apple from the North, Qualcomm from the South--are working together again. An amicable resolution of a dispute that last more than two years and was a bit acrimonious at times.

Cravath Swaine & Moore's Evan Chesler finished his opening statement (with only about 20 minutes left at the time the settlement became known). Counsel talked to Judge Curiel privately, and he then explained the situation to the jury. He also invited jurors to his chambers to thank them personally for everything.

A trial that could have lasted, if one includes jury deliberations, 1.5 months or more has therefore ended after only 1.5 days.

This would have been a huge and extremely difficult case for the jury to decide. As always, I congratulate both parties on their deal, and in this case I think either side would have had to take quite some risk by letting a jury render a verdict on complex commercial and partly technical issues.

Even though it ultimately didn't matter anymore what counsel said today, I really was impressed by Fish & Richardson's Ruffin Cordell's opening statement. One of the best explainers I ever got to listen to in a courtroom. I must admit I hadn't heard of him before, but probably will again, sooner or later.

The terms of Apple's new deal with Qualcomm haven't been disclosed other than money flowing from Apple to Qualcomm, not the other way round (which could have happened after the trial in theory). Analysts will probably soon claim to know the exact numbers. We won't know whether they're right until something surfaces in future litigation.

In the immediate aftermath of this settlement, the question is what this means for the FTC v. Qualcomm case that went to trial in January. Judge Lucy H. Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California might rule anytime now. Or that case might get settled, too.

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States deserves respect. What's obvious (and therefore not a question of respect or a lack thereof) is that there's now less of a national interest in that antitrust case than before. However, I have consistently said that the case is about important issues, not just particular companies. It could be that the FTC, whose primary job is to prevent consumer harm, decides to carry on regardless. Or they might settle in the short term. We'll see what happens.

Standard-essential patents (SEPs) and FRAND licensing terms have been and will remain a key focus of this blog, of course. And, more generally, patent infringement remedies.

By the way, live tweets from the courtroom were allowed again today.

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