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Sep 18, 2018

Qualcomm iPhone ban attempt questioned by German judge

Money and Marketing: Will consumers go for Apple's expensive new phones?

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Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM.O) and Apple Inc. (AAPL.O), embroiled in a global fight over royalty fees, got mixed messages from a German court that’s hearing one of the many patent lawsuits between the technology giants.

Qualcomm is seeking a ruling that Apple’s IPhone violates its patents, and should be banned from Europe’s biggest economy. On Tuesday, Presiding Judge Holger Kircher told the parties at a hearing in Mannheim that the issues in the case aren’t clear cut. Qualcomm hasn’t yet convinced the three judges of any Apple infringement of its intellectual property, while Apple may not be able to invoke antitrust claims as a defense, Kircher said.

Qualcomm contends Apple phones with Intel Corp. chips infringe two patents granted for technology to improve the performance of devices by switching electronic signals on and off multiple times each second.

“It’s all good how you explain the point of this technology to us,” Kircher told Qualcomm’s lawyers at the hearing. “But the problem is that point isn’t really reflected in the language of your patent.”

Courts in the U.S., Europe, and China are being pulled into the patent fight over fees for chip technology. Apple has pushed its contract manufacturers to stop paying royalties to Qualcomm and has turned to Intel for supply of chips in its newest models. Qualcomm filed patent suits with the International Trade Commission to stop these devices from entering the U.S., and nine cases are pending in Germany.

Historically, Qualcomm has charged a percentage of the sales price of each device. Apple no longer wants to accept that model, saying Qualcomm profits from price increases that aren’t related to its technology but rather to assets developed solely by the IPhone maker.

Tuesday’s case is the second by Qualcomm aimed at securing a quick victory in Germany, a jurisdiction with a reputation of swiftly granting injunctions to patent holders. In June, the same judges stayed a similar case to allow the European Union Patent Office to rule on the validity of the IP. The current case is less likely to be stayed, Kircher said.

Kircher said he and his colleagues haven’t been swayed by Apple’s claims that Qualcomm misuses its market power by invoking the patent and is trying to force it to resume purchasing chips. The technology at issue isn’t part of an industry standard Qualcomm would be forced to license to Apple under to antitrust rules. Apple also has a way to circumvent the technology and at least some of its subcontractors have licenses, according to the judge.

Pegatron Corp., one of Apple’s suppliers, joined the litigation on Tuesday as a party supporting Apple.

The court is still debating the issues, Kircher said, and the parties can file more arguments before the judges make a decision. The court scheduled a ruling date of Dec. 4.

A court in Munich will hear another patent case between the two companies on Thursday.

In a in an interview on Bloomberg TV’s “Studio 1.0” that will air Sept. 26, Qualcomm Chief Executive Officer Steve Mollenkopf said a bitter standoff between the chip maker and Apple is entering a period when both sides have an increasing incentive to settle.

Tuesday’s cases are: LG Mannheim, 2 O 16/18, 2 O 190/17.