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Apple says a former engineer co-invented tech in Qualcomm patent dispute

Qualcomm says the engineer contributed "nothing at all."

qualcomm-headquarters-3

Qualcomm headquarters in San Diego.

Tania González/CNET

Apple said Tuesday that one of its engineers contributed to a patent Qualcomm says the iPhone maker infringed on, a twist in the long-running legal dispute between the two companies. 

Apple said the concept behind the patent, which allows a smartphone to connect to the internet quickly once the device boots up, was proposed by Arjuna Siva, who worked for Apple before the 2011 release of the first iPhone that used a Qualcomm chip. Apple, which said Siva should be named on the patent, argued the point on the second day of a trial in a San Diego federal court.

Qualcomm is suing Apple in a federal court over three patents registered to the chipmaker that Qualcomm says Apple infringed. The trial is one front in a wide-ranging legal battle between the two tech giants. Two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission, aided by Apple and Intel, accused Qualcomm of operating a monopoly in modem chips. The agency argued Qualcomm has driven up the cost of phones and hurt consumers because its high royalty rates stopped competitors from entering the market. That trial took place in January, and the parties are currently waiting for a decision.

Before Apple first released iPhones that use Qualcomm chips, the two companies worked together so Qualcomm could meet Apple's requirements for the components. To do that, the companies emailed back and forth and held calls together. The project was so secretive that the companies used code names for each other: Apple was "Maverick" and Qualcomm was "Eureka."

Apple says that while the two companies were in discussions, then-Apple engineer Arjuna Siva came up with the idea that Qualcomm would later patent. Siva, who now works at Google, will testify later in the trial.

"Does Qualcomm believe in giving credit where credit is due?" Apple's counsel, Joseph Mueller of Wilmer Hale, asked Monday. 

Stephen Haehnichen, Qualcomm's director of engineering and one of the inventors listed on the patent, said Siva didn't deserve credit for the invention. When asked what contribution Siva made, he replied, "Nothing at all."

In his testimony, Haehnichen said Apple asked Qualcomm to build something the company had never made before, and to do it on a very short timeline. When Qualcomm delivered, Haehnichen was thrilled. "It was clear this was going to change the way we build modems," he said Monday. "It was going to be meaningful to Qualcomm."

The San Diego trial, presided over by US District Judge Dana Sabraw, is more technical than the other parts of the legal battle. But it could have implications for how your phone is made and how much it costs. In addition to the boot-up patent, the companies are fighting over a patent that deals with graphics processing and battery life, and a third one that lets apps on your phone download data more easily by directing traffic between the apps processor and the modem.

On Monday, Apple sought to paint the picture that Qualcomm was hasty and careless when it filed its patents. Mueller, Apple's counsel, showed a slide created by Haehnichen that he presented to his team at an all-hands meeting. 

The slide, titled "Patents, go get 'em," has a picture on it of cash bills fanned out. A bullet point under the title says "poker chips," and notes employees get $1,500 for filing a patent, and another $1,500 for the patent being issued. 

It isn't uncommon for companies to reward their engineers for patents. Haehnichen said he was just trying to encourage his team of engineers, who typically like to code and build but not present their ideas and work with lawyers over patent language. He said he was trying to remind his team that the work is worth the effort. 

"It's important to our R&D business," he said.