Friday is the trial date for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case against Qualcomm, the outcome of which could have significant implications for Apple’s global legal battle with the chipmaker.
District Judge Lucy Koh will preside over the nonjury proceedings commencing in San Jose, California on Friday. Koh is well-known for her participation in tech industry lawsuits, including Apple’s infamous, multi-year conflict with Samsung.
In a lawsuit filed nearly two years ago, the FTC accuses Qualcomm of pressuring Apple into an exclusive modem chip deal from 2011 to 2016 in exchange for lower patent royalties. Qualcomm is frequently accused of not adhering to FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) pricing, despite holding a number of crucial smartphone-related patents.
Prior to the FTC action, Qualcomm had already been fined $853 million for similar practices in South Korea. Apple filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm, accusing the company of withholding rebates in retaliation for cooperating with antitrust investigators.
Since then, governments in the United States, China, Taiwan, and Europe have investigated Qualcomm’s commercial transactions. The company avoided the majority of a fine in Taiwan by agreeing to invest $700 million in the country, but the European Union has fined it 997 million euros.
In the meantime, the private conflict between Apple and Qualcomm has only intensified, with lawsuits and countersuits being filed all over the world and Apple suppliers boycotting royalty payments. Qualcomm has accused Apple of patent infringement and the disclosure of trade secrets to rival chipmaker Intel, which is now the sole provider of iPhone modems.
Qualcomm was able to obtain limited iPhone bans in China and Germany at the conclusion of 2018, reversing Apple’s traditional advantage. Qualcomm has been unsuccessful in its efforts to obtain a U.S. injunction, which affects only older models. Apple has attempted to circumvent the Chinese ban by modifying iOS.
Legal battles may eventually force the two companies to reach a settlement. Qualcomm executives have even claimed that a deal could be reached within a matter of months, but as recently as late November, Apple stated that no negotiations were currently underway.