Ericsson sues Apple over phone patents in Europe

The Swedish telecoms equipment maker says that it tried to come to terms with Apple through arbitration. That effort has expired though, prompting the lawsuit over global licensing of intellectual property for mobile technologies.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Ericsson has fired another salvo at Apple over its patents. Ericsson

Communications company Ericsson has opened a new legal front in its ongoing lawsuits with Apple.

Ericsson has filed lawsuits against Apple in Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands, alleging that the iPhone maker is violating patents it holds related to wireless communications technology. The lawsuits, which were filed on Friday, followed an attempt by Ericsson to enter into arbitration with Apple to arrive at a decision on patent royalties, the company said.

The new lawsuits are just the latest development in an increasingly tumultuous relationship between Apple and Ericsson. In February, Ericsson announced that it had sued Apple in the US for allegedly violating the same patents related to 2G and 4G/LTE standards, semiconductor components, user interface software and other mobile technologies.

At the crux of those lawsuits is a global licensing agreement that was previously in place between Apple and Ericsson. Ericsson's patent portfolio includes over 37,000 patents and the company has signed more than 100 patent-licensing agreements. With Apple, the company's agreement covered standard-essential technologies, or intellectual property that is required, in general, for the ongoing operation of a business in its respective market. Standard-essential patents are called such by patent-governing bodies and must be offered on "fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory" (FRAND) terms in order to ensure proper competition in the marketplace.

The idea behind standard-essential patents is that certain companies develop technologies that become the standard in the marketplace. When that happens, governing bodies, like the International Trade Commission, force patent holders to offer their intellectual property to any and all companies competing in a respective market. In order to maintain competitiveness and not provide the patent-holder with too much control over the market, they are required to offer that intellectual property on a fair basis or face the possibility of losing the patent altogether.

The patents included in the Apple lawsuit are standard-essential and according to Ericsson, the terms of the deal were being offered on a FRAND basis. However, Apple decided not to renew its license to the patents in January, arguing that the terms were incongruous with FRAND terms. The companies held negotiations and Ericsson offered arbitration, but Apple declined those offers, Ericsson says.

That decision to not negotiate came after Apple filed its own lawsuit against Ericsson in a US District Court in January. Apple acknowledged in its lawsuit that it's using technologies that are included in Ericsson's patent portfolio in its iPhone, but said that the wireless company is trying to fetch too much in royalties. Apple said in a statement that it would be "willing to pay a fair price to secure the rights to standard-essential patents," but the company wrote in its lawsuit that the way Ericsson tries to charge for royalties is off. Apple argues that royalties on the patents should be charged based on component costs and not as a percentage of the entire cost of the iPhone, which Ericsson has demanded.

Regardless, Ericsson's decision to expand the scope of the lawsuit is familiar ground for Apple. For years, the company was embroiled in worldwide lawsuits with Samsung over patents until the companies finally decided to end all international lawsuits and focus solely on patent-infringement claims in the US.

So far, no court has ruled on the status of the patents and how royalties should be calculated. However, Ericsson last year inked a deal with Samsung worth $650 million to end a similar patent dispute. Apple, meanwhile, was ordered in February to pay $533 million in damages to Smartflash for allegedly infringing patents held by that company.

Neither Ericsson nor Apple immediately responded to a request for comment.