Apple fanbois ride to the aid of iGiant in patent spat with Qualcomm

Consumers attempt to block chip flinger's attempt to block sale of devices without their kit

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Consumers have come to the rescue of plucky little Apple in its ongoing stand-off with Qualcomm over patent infringements.

This particular spat is over Qualcomm's attempt to persuade the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to stop Apple importing iPhones that do not contain the chipmaker's radio gear.

The sueball was flung back in 2017 and asked the ITC to not only stop imports of Apple devices using non-Qualcomm modems but also to stop "marketing, distribution, offering for sale, use after importation" of the offending iThings.

While not directly named in the original filing, the manufacturer of the offending chips was likely Intel, and Chipzilla shot back with a condemnation of Qualcomm's alleged anti-competitive practices – something that will have caused a raised eyebrow or two at AMD.

Legal papers have since been lobbed between lawyers like naughty children with balls of yellow snow, and this month it appeared that Qualcomm may have the upper hand.

On Friday 15 June, the ITC presented its findings to Judge Thomas Pender that Apple had indeed trampled over one of Qualcomm's patents. Bloomberg reported that Pender said he tended to agree with the ITC's lawyers, which is undoubtedly bad news for Apple since the only remedy available to the ITC is to slap on an import ban. His findings, however, won't arrive until September with a ruling due early in 2019.

It's against this background that lawyers for a class-action suit brought by a group of smartphone consumers against Qualcomm have ridden in.

According to court papers seen by The Register filed in case 17-MD-2773 in the US District Court for Northern District of California on 28 June, the plaintiffs would like a preliminary injunction issued "barring Qualcomm (and its subsidiaries) from enforcing, or seeking to enforce, an ITC exclusion order".

Lawyers for the consumers reckon that a ruling from the ITC in Qualcomm's favour would undermine their own antitrust efforts, aimed at dealing with an alleged monopoly enjoyed by Qualcomm in the modem chipset marketplace:

In particular, enforcement of the exclusion order Qualcomm seeks in its ITC complaint – which would exclude from the US market Apple products that use premium LTE modem chips supplied by Qualcomm's only premium LTE chipset competitor (Intel) – will undermine this Court's ability to enjoin Qualcomm's illegal monopolization and open the premium LTE modem chip market.

The judge in the case, the Honorable Lucy H Koh - who also presided over Apple's six-year legal spat with Samsung that ended this week - has yet to respond to the request.

With no ruling in the ITC case expected until next year, consumers will be able to continue pouring their greenbacks into Apple's corporate coffers for a good while yet, regardless of the silicon inside their shiny toys.

The Register has contacted Apple for comment on the consumer action and will update if there is a response. ®


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