Apple wants four Qualcomm patents declared invalid

In the latest move in the legal spat between the companies, Apple has turned to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
2 min read

Some models of the iPhone X use a 4G chip from Qualcomm while others use Intel.

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Apple's trying a different tactic in its battle with Qualcomm -- asking for the chipmaker's patents to be declared invalid.

The iPhone maker on Thursday filed petitions with the US Patent and Trademark Office, asking for the four Qualcomm patents be canceled, according to Bloomberg. Those patents are at issue in a fight between the companies over licensing fees that Qualcomm receives for its mobile technology.

Apple argues the four patents -- related to how to focus a digital camera, a device that works as a phone and personal digital assistant, touch-sensitive displays, and circuit memory -- aren't new ideas and shouldn't be valid, Bloomberg said.

Apple and Qualcomm didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Qualcomm is the world's biggest provider of mobile chips, and it created technology that's essential for connecting phones to cellular networks. The company derives a significant portion of its revenue from licensing those inventions to hundreds of device makers, with the fee based on the value of the phone, not the components. Because Qualcomm owns patents related to 3G and 4G phones, as well as other features like software, any handset maker building a device that connects to the newer networks has to pay the company a licensing fee, even if it doesn't use Qualcomm's chips.

Apple has argued that tactic is wrong and that it shouldn't have to pay as much for licensing Qualcomm technology. It says Qualcomm is "effectively taxing Apple's innovation" and that Apple "shouldn't have to pay them for technology breakthroughs they have nothing to do with." Other licensees have also pushed for lower rates, and governments around the world have been investigating Qualcomm's licensing practices.

Apple filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm last year, which sparked off countersuits by Qualcomm. The US International Trade Commission is currently considering one case, involving whether iPhones containing chips from Qualcomm rival Intel should be banned from the US for infringing a Qualcomm patent. Last week, the ITC said Apple has infringed at least one of Qualcomm's patents.

Apple "is one of the most aggressive users" of trying to get the USPTO to invalidate patents, Bloomberg said. It noted Apple has filed 398 petitions that challenge patents.

A final decision from the three-judge review board about the Qualcomm patents likely won't come for a year. Qualcomm's CEO, Steve Mollenkopf, has said he hopes to settle the case with Apple sometime in 2018.

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