The ongoing intellectual property rights conflict between Apple and Qualcomm took another turn Wednesday, when Apple filed a countersuit against the chipmaker in U.S. District Court in California.
On Wednesday, Apple filed a countersuit in the ongoing dispute asserting that Qualcomm has infringed on eight of its patents related to battery-efficiency technologies. On the same day, Qualcomm lodged three new legal complaints against Apple for patent infringement, alleging that the iPhone maker is wrongfully using 16 of Qualcomm's technologies in its cellphones and the Apple Watch.
At the root of the conflict between the two companies is Qualcomm's broadband processor technology that enables mobile phones to connect with cellular networks. Qualcomm's modem chip design was used to set the industry standard for mobile communications, and cellphone makers, including Apple, have paid Qualcomm regular royalties for the rights to use that technology.
Earlier this year, Apple began withholding those royalty payments -- totalling around $2 billion per year -- to Qualcomm. In the meantime, Qualcomm has sought to ban the sale of iPhones in China and has asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to prohibit the importation of some iPhone models, including the recently launched flagship iPhone X, that use a competing modem chip from Intel.
Qualcomm 'Like a Common Patent Troll'
This summer, Qualcomm filed a complaint alleging that Apple was infringing on its power-efficiency technologies for mobile phones. Apple's countersuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, claims that Qualcomm is wrongly using some of Apple's battery life technologies.
"Qualcomm has struggled mightily to maintain its monopoly position through intimidation, litigation, and manipulation, for all the reasons set forth in the co-pending matter before this Court," Apple stated in its countersuit. "The weak patents Qualcomm asserts here for the first time appear to be a blatant effort to take credit for the innovation of others."
The complaint continued, "Notably, all of Qualcomm's asserted patents were filed and prosecuted well after the iPhone was introduced. Put plainly, Qualcomm saw the unique features and success of the iPhone, and then pursued patents trying to cover the Apple product much like a common patent troll."
Apple Seeking To 'Exert Leverage' over Qualcomm
In its latest lawsuits against Apple, all filed Wednesday, Qualcomm asserted that the iPhone maker is infringing on 16 of Qualcomm's patents.
"While Apple built the most successful consumer products in history by relying significantly on technologies pioneered by Qualcomm, Apple refuses to pay for those technologies," one of the three filings stated. Qualcomm added that Apple has also encouraged the companies that actually manufacture iPhones to breach their contracts by refusing to pay Qualcomm royalties, and has "misled governmental agencies around the world into investigating Qualcomm in an effort to indirectly exert leverage over Qualcomm."
In an in-depth look at the conflict between Apple and Qualcomm in October, Bloomberg described the dispute as a "billion-dollar war over an $18 part."
All this is taking place in a technology market and ecosystem that is changing rapidly. For example, the pending arrival of 5G networking capabilities could help boost Qualcomm's licensing revenues, while Qualcomm's effort to acquire Dutch chipmaker NXP could help reduce its dependence on technology royalties. In the meantime, processor rival Broadcom last month launched an unsolicited attempt to acquire Qualcomm.