Despite Qualcomm’s multiple public attempts to patch up its relationship with Apple, the companies’ long-running legal battle has taken a nasty new turn: Qualcomm now claims Apple stole “vast swaths” of its confidential intellectual property, then provided it to rival Intel to improve the performance of Intel’s competing chips.
The new allegations are contained in a complaint Qualcomm filed late Monday with the Superior Court of California (via CNBC), attempting to amend its previous breach of contract lawsuit against Apple. Under a master software agreement with Apple, Qualcomm provided its partner with confidential source code and tools that were to be used for iPhone modem development and maintenance.
Qualcomm claims that it discovered correspondence between Apple and Intel engineers during the lawsuit’s discovery process. The engineers allegedly used Qualcomm information to help Intel catch up with its rival — a process that has played out in public as Intel modems have lagged a generation or more behind Qualcomm’s, but annually caught up. This year, Apple cut Qualcomm modems out of its newest iPhones, relying entirely on Intel alternatives.
“[I]t is now apparent Apple engaged in a years-long campaign of false promises, stealth and subterfuge designed to steal Qualcomm’s confidential information and trade secrets,” the complaint says, “for the purpose of improving the performance of lower-quality modem chipsets, with the ultimate goal of eliminating Qualcomm’s Apple-based business.”
While Qualcomm has every right to pursue Apple over these alleged violations, Apple’s attempts to wean itself off of Qualcomm parts are hardly surprising. Apple has openly been developing its own chips across an increasing number of categories and has been filing patents and hiring engineers for modem technologies. The company has also become embroiled in roughly a dozen legal actions against Qualcomm across the world, including this one and various international claims regarding allegedly excessive royalty payments.
Regardless of whether it prevails in these skirmishes, Apple could wind up losing the larger battle. Next-generation 5G networks will be launching shortly, and no other company — including Intel — appears to be better positioned with 5G modems and antennas than Qualcomm. Consequently, most of Apple’s rivals are using Qualcomm’s chips for soon-to-be-announced 5G phones. It remains to be seen whether Apple will produce a home-grown 5G alternative or wind up relying again on either Qualcomm or Intel for its next round of modems.
Updated at 7:38 a.m. Pacific: Qualcomm’s general counsel Don Rosenberg provided the following comment to VentureBeat:
“Once again Apple has flouted its contractual commitments and misappropriated Qualcomm’s property rights in an effort to improve its performance and increase its profits. The code, tools, and design details of Qualcomm’s modem technology which are the subjects of this litigation represent the genius and labors of our dedicated engineers. We have only the rule of law to protect them.”