Apple updates software in bid to resolve China Qualcomm fight
Apple is attempting to resolve China’s ban on sales of certain iPhones with a software update for users in the region, in its latest move in a legal battle with Qualcomm over patent infringement.
The Intermediate People’s Court in Fuzhou issued in November a preliminary injunction banning Chinese imports and sales of seven Apple smartphone models, from 2015’s iPhone 6s through to last year’s iPhone X. The order said the phones had violated two Qualcomm patents related to photo manipulation and using apps on a touchscreen.
The court’s decision was a breakthrough for Qualcomm, which has been waging a multibillion-dollar legal battle against Apple in multiple countries over smartphone patents and royalties.
Qualcomm has insisted that the court order covers the iPhone models regardless of the software used in them, meaning that Apple is violating the order by continuing to sell those iPhones in China. It is now seeking to extend the injunction to this year’s iPhones.
Apple on Friday conceded that it needed to issue a software update to resolve the court’s concerns.
“Based on the iPhone models we offer today in China, we believe we are in compliance,” it said.
“Early next week we will deliver a software update for iPhone users in China addressing the minor functionality of the two patents at issue in the case,” it added.
In response, Qualcomm said Apple “continues to disregard and violate the Fuzhou court’s orders. They are legally obliged to immediately cease sales, offers for sale and importation of the devices identified in the orders and to prove compliance in court.”
Yuan Yang, a lawyer at DeBund Law Offices, noted that the court order was vague and thus left open options for Apple. “It’s not specific enough in the ruling about what is actually infringing the patents — the software or the iPhones themselves.”
“Apple can make use of this vagueness to present an argument,” added Mr Yuan.
Qualcomm, through its Chinese lawyers, has also alleged that the patents in question are still infringed by new versions of iOS software. It said the only reason it did not include this year’s iPhone models, which are sold running iOS 12, in its legal complaint was because this would have delayed the court process.
Lawyers have said that the courts may be influenced by the significance of the two tech giants for the US as well as for their Chinese partners. Qualcomm has in the past boasted of its strong relationships with businesses in China, and has leaned on them to influence regulators.
“This is politicised, and it is part of a trade war. Apple is only going to get past this through dispute resolution [with Qualcomm], not just through the courts,” said Gregory Wendell Dennis, an intellectual property lawyer based in Kunming.
Qualcomm has asked the Fuzhou court to enforce its injunction and halt sales across China. If it did so, Apple would suffer hugely in the world’s biggest smartphone market. Sales of the iPhone models in question accounted for 61 per cent of Apple’s phone sales in China in the third quarter of this year, according to research firm Canalys.