Apple, Qualcomm settle bitter dispute over iPhone technology
Apple and mobile chip maker Qualcomm have settled a bitter financial dispute centred on some of the technology that enables iPhones to connect to the Internet.
The surprise truce announced Tuesday came just as the former allies-turned-antagonists were facing off in a federal court trial that was supposed to unfold over the next month in San Diego. The resolution abruptly ended that trial, which also involved Apple’s key iPhone suppliers.
The deal requires Apple to pay Qualcomm an undisclosed amount. It also includes a six-year licensing agreement that likely involves recurring payments to the mobile chipmaker.
Investors reacted as if it were a resounding victory for Qualcomm. The San Diego company’s stock soared 23% to close Tuesday at US$70.45. Apple shares edged up two cents to US$199.25.
Neither Apple nor Qualcomm would comment beyond a brief statement announcing they had resolved their differences. Details about how much Apple and its iPhone suppliers will be paying Qualcomm could emerge in court documents or when the companies announce their latest financial results. Apple is due to report its quarterly results on April 30, while Qualcomm is scheduled to release its numbers on May 1.
Apple had been seeking at least US$1 billion for money that Qualcomm was supposed to rebate as part of an earlier licensing agreement. Apple had begun to have misgivings about that deal as it added more features to its increasingly popular line-up of iPhones.
Qualcomm was seeking US$7 billion for unpaid royalties, it contended, it was owed for its patented technology in the iPhone. Apple’s iPhone suppliers, including Foxconn and Pegatron, wanted another US$27 billion from Qualcomm.
The dispute was clearly beginning to hurt all parties involved, motivating them to settle, said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.
“Both Apple and Qualcomm got deeper into this than they wanted to,” Moorhead said.
Qualcomm also held another bargaining chip: It makes the modem chips needed for future smartphones to work with the next generation of high-speed wireless networks known as ‘5G’. Two of Apple’s biggest rivals, Samsung and Huawei, are already getting ready to introduce 5G models. The iPhone would have been at a disadvantage if it did not have a pipeline to Qualcomm’s chips.
iPhone sales falling
Falling behind the competition isn’t something Apple can afford with its iPhone sales already falling.
“Ultimately, Apple realised this was more about two kids fighting in the sandbox and they have bigger issues ahead with 5G and iPhone softness versus battling Qualcomm in court,” Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in Tuesday research note.
Apple had already lost an earlier battle with Qualcomm last month when a federal court jury in San Diego decided the iPhone maker owed Qualcomm US$31 million for infringing on three of its patents.
Qualcomm still faces other potential fallout from its demands to be paid royalties in addition to the fees it charges for its mobile chips. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has accused the company of using its royalty system to stifle competition in the mobile chip market in another case in which Apple played a central role.
A trial about the FTC’s lawsuit wrapped up in a San Jose, California court in January, but the judge still has not issued a ruling.