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Why Apple’s 5G problem may be legal and not technical

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Why Apple's 5G problem may be legal and not technical

There were reports recently that Apple‘s plan to design its own 5G modem chip for the iPhone have failed. These reports quoted the most-popular Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo who said that the company’s plan to equip 80% of its 2023 handsets with an Apple 5G modem chip have not worked. “My latest survey indicates that Apple’s own iPhone 5G modem chip development may have failed, so Qualcomm will remain exclusive supplier for 5G chips of 2H23 new iPhones, with a 100% supply share (vs. company’s previous estimate of 20%),” said Kuo. He put ‘development failure’ as the reason.

However, a new report in 9to5Mac claims that the problem is not technical – but legal. Apple’s inability to make 5G modem chips reportedly has its origin in its patent battle with Qualcomm.. Apple reportedly needs to invalidate two Qualcomm patents to design its own 5G modem chips. According to Patently Apple, the Cupertino giant’s bid to make 5G modems will infringe on two Qualcomm patents. The report links Foss Patents analysis that supports this interpretation. It further goes on to suggest that Qualcomm will sue Apple if it goes that path, but may also win quite easily.

Apple-Qualcomm battle
Qualcomm sued Apple in San Diego federal court in 2017 arguing that the company’s iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches infringe on a variety of Qualcomm mobile-technology patents. This case was part of a broader dispute between the two companies. In 2019, the duo settled the case signing an agreement where Apple paid Qualcomm billions of dollars to continue using its chips in iPhones. The two reached a six-year licence agreement that runs until 2025.

However, though Apple settled its legal battle with Qualcomm in 2019, it continued its challenge of two patents taking it to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. This Board, however, favoured Qualcomm. Apple then appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which too dismissed the appeal on ground that Apple “lacked standing to pursue the matter because of the settlement.”

Apple then took this argument all the way to the US Supreme Court. Apple is said to have told the Supreme Court that it still faced the risk of litigation after the agreement expires in 2025, or in 2027 if the settlement term is extended. Qualcomm has a “history of aggressively enforcing its patents,” Apple said. Late last week, the US Supreme Court too rejected Apple’s bid for a hearing. This for now puts an end to the Apple-Qualcomm battle, at least for sometime.

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