U.S. District Court Grants a Preliminary Injunction Allowing Data Harvesting on LinkedIn’s Public Profiles
By Valerio Cosimo Romano
On 14 August 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (“Court”) granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against the professional social networking site LinkedIn (“Defendant”), enjoining the company from preventing access, copying, and use of public profiles on LinkedIn’s website and from blocking access to such member public profiles.
HiQ Labs (“Plaintiff”) is a company which sells information to its clients about their workforces. This information is gathered by analyzing data collected on LinkedIn users’ publicly available profiles, which are automatically harvested by Plaintiff. HiQ is entirely dependent from LinkedIn’s data.
Plaintiff resorted to this legal action after Defendant attempted to terminate the Plaintiff’s ability to access the publicly available information on profiles of Linkedin users (after years of apparently tolerating hiQ’s access and use of its data). Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s actions constitute unfair business practices, common law tort and contractual liability, as well as a violation of free speech under the California Constitution.
Irreparable harm and the balance of hardships
First, the Court evaluated the existence of a potential irreparable harm for the parties. The Court concluded that, without temporary relief, hiQ would go out of business and that LinkedIn does not have a strong interest to keep the privacy of its users, who made their respective profiles publicly available on purpose. Therefore, the court recognized that the balance of hardships weighs in hiQ’s favor.
Likeliness to prevail on the merits
The Court went on to establish the parties’ respective likeness to prevail on the merits. It considered four claims.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”)
LinkedIn argued that all of hiQ’s claims failed because hiQ’s unauthorized access to LinkedIn violates the CFAA. The CFAA establishes civil and criminal liability for any person who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access and thereby obtains information from any protected computer. Defendant explicitly revoked the Plaintiff’s permission to acquire data on its systems. According to Defendant, the CFAA is violated when permission has been explicitly revoked by the data’s provider. Plaintiff contended that applying the CFAA to the access of public websites would expand its scope well beyond what was intended by the Congress at the time it enacted the statute since, under Defendant’s interpretation, the CFAA would not leave any room for the consideration of either a website owner’s reasons for denying authorization or an individual’s possible justification for ignoring such a denial.
The Court sided with hiQ, asserting that the CFAA is not intended to police traffic to publicly available websites. According to the Court, a broad reading of the Act would set aside the legal evolution of the balance between open access to information and privacy. Given that the CFAA was enacted well before the advent of the internet, the Court refused to interpret the statute in that manner. The Court further clarified that this does not impair the possibility for a website to employ measures aimed at preventing harmful intrusions or attacks on its servers.
According to Plaintiff, LinkedIn also violated California’s constitutional provisions on free speech, which confer broader rights than those provided by the First Amendment. In Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins, the California Supreme Court held that the state free speech right prohibited private owners from excluding people from their property when their property is an arena where constitutionally valuable actions take place, like engaging in political speech or sharing fundamental parts of a community’s life. The internet, hiQ contends, can be therefore interpreted as a “public space”, and thus be subject to such doctrine.
However, The Court found that no court had expressly extended Pruneyard to the internet. Thus, it concluded that no serious question had actually been raised with regard to constitutional rights under the California Constitution.
Unfair competition law
HiQ also argued that Defendant’s actions had the anticompetitive purpose of monetizing the data with LinkedIn’s competing product and that this conduct amounted to unfair competition under California’s unfair competition law, which broadly prohibits “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent” practices, including those practices that do not explicitly violate antitrust laws, but threaten the spirit of such laws.
According to Plaintiff, Linkedin is violating the spirit of antitrust laws in two ways: first, it is leveraging its power in the professional networking market to secure advantage in the data analytics market. Secondly, it is violating the essential facilities doctrine, which precludes a monopolist or attempted monopolist from denying access to a facility it controls that is essential to its competitors, by precluding them to enter the market.
The Court concluded that Plaintiff had presented some evidence supporting its assertions, but also remarked that during the proceedings LinkedIn may well be able to prove that its actions were not motivated by anticompetitive purposes.
The Court did not recognize any basis for a further common law promissory estoppel claim based on an alleged promise made by Defendant to make the data as public as possible and even available to third parties.
According to the court, there was no proof of such a promise and Plaintiff did not cite any authority applying promissory estoppel made to someone other than the party asserting that claim.
Lastly, the Court considered the public interest. Plaintiff argued that a private party should not have the unilateral authority to restrict other private parties from accessing information that is otherwise available freely to all. Defendant, in contrast, argued that if the users knew that this data was freely available to unrestricted collection and analysis by third parties for any purposes, they would be far less likely to make the information available online.
The Court concluded that granting blanket authority to platform owners to block access to information publicly available on their websites may pose a serious threat to the free and fair flow of information on the Internet and that the questions related to antitrust enforcement leaned further in favor of granting the motion for the preliminary injunction.
U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit Finds Per Se Treatment Inapplicable to Tying Arrangement in the Premium Cable Services Market
By Valerio Cosimo Romano
On 19 September 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (“Appeals Court”) affirmed with a split decision the tossing by the U.S. District Court For the Western District of Oklahoma of a jury verdict in a suit alleging that a telecommunications company had illegally tied the rental of set-top boxes to its premium interactive cable services.
Parties and procedural history of the case
Cox Communications, Inc. (“Defendant”) operates as a broadband communications and entertainment company for residences and businesses in the United States. Its subscribers cannot access premium cable services unless they also rent a set-top box from Cox. A class of subscribers in Oklahoma City (“Plaintiffs”) sued Defendant under antitrust law, alleging that Defendant had illegally tied cable services to set-top-box rentals in violation of § 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits illegal restraints of trade.
The jury found that Plaintiffs had proven the necessary elements to establish a tying arrangement. However, the District Court disagreed, and determined that Plaintiffs had offered insufficient evidence for a jury to find that Cox’s tying arrangement had foreclosed a substantial volume of commerce in Oklahoma City to other sellers or potential sellers of set-top boxes in the market for set- top boxes. The District Court also concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to show anticompetitive injury.
A tie exists when a seller exploits its control in one product market to force buyers in a second market into purchasing a tied product that the buyer either didn’t want or wanted to purchase elsewhere. Usually, courts apply a per se rule to tying claims, under which plaintiffs can prevail just by proving that a tie exists. In this case, there is no need for further market analysis.
The Supreme Court determined that tying two products together disrupted the natural functioning of the markets and violated antitrust law per se. However, the Supreme Court has declared that the per se rule for tying arrangements demands a showing that the tie creates a substantial potential for impact on competition.
On the basis of Supreme Court’s precedents, lower courts have defined the elements needed to prove per se tying claims. In particular, in the Tenth Circuit, a plaintiff must show that (1) two separate products are involved; (2) the sale or agreement to sell one product is conditioned on the purchase of the other; (3) the seller has sufficient economic power in the tying product market to enable it to restrain trade in the tied product market; and (4) a ‘not insubstantial’ amount of interstate commerce in the tied product is affected. If a plaintiff fails to prove an element, the court will not apply the per se rule to the tie, but then may choose to analyze the merits of the claim under the rule of reason.
According to the Appeals Court, legal precedents (Eastman Kodak, Microsoft) show that in some industries a per se treatment might be inappropriate.
In this regard, the Court cited a recent case from Second Circuit (Kaufman), concerning the same kind of tie by a different cable company. In Kaufman, the court thoroughly explained the reasons why the tying arrangement at issue didn’t trigger the application of the per se rule.
To start, the court explained that cable providers sell their subscribers the right to view certain contents. The contents’ producers, however, require the cable companies to prevent viewers from stealing their content. This problem is solved by set-top boxes, which enable cable providers to code their signals. However, providers do not share their codes with cable box manufacturers. Therefore, to be useful to a consumer, a cable box must be cable-provider specific.
After explaining the function of set-top boxes, the Second Circuit turned to the regulatory environment and the history of the cable industry’s use of set-top boxes. The court described the Federal Communication Commission’s (“FCC”) attempts to disaggregate set-top boxes from the delivery of premium cable, and stated that the FCC’s failure is at least partly attributable to shortcomings in the new technologies designed to make premium cable available without set-top boxes. The court also pointed out that one FCC regulation actually caps the price that cable providers can charge customers who rent set-top boxes. Under the regulation, cable companies must calculate the cost of making such set-top boxes functional and available for consumers, and must charge customers according to those costs, including only a reasonable profit in their leasing rates.
On this basis, the Second Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs’ factual allegations because they didn’t trigger the application of the per se tying rule.
In our case, the discussion relates to the fourth element (affection of a ‘not insubstantial’ amount of interstate commerce in the tied product). Plaintiffs claim that this element only requires consideration of the gross volume of commerce affected by the tie, and that they met this requirement presenting undisputed evidence that Cox obtained over $200 million in revenues from renting set-top boxes during the class period. On the other side, Defendant maintains that this element requires a showing that the tie actually foreclosed some amount of commerce, or some current or potential competitor, in the market for set-top boxes.
According to the Appeals Court, recent developments in tying law validate the district court’s order and support Cox’s interpretation of tying law’s foreclosure element. Based on the Supreme Court’s tying cases and other precedents, the Appeals Court therefore concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to show that the tie has a substantial potential to foreclose competition.
The Appeals Court’s reasoning is based on four points. First, Cox does not manufacture the set-top boxes that it rents to customers. Rather, it acts as an intermediary between the set-top-box manufacturers and the consumers that use them. This means that what it does with the boxes has little or no effect on competition between set-top-box manufacturers in the set-top-box market, as they must continue to innovate and compete with each other to maintain their status as the preferred manufacturer for as many cable companies as possible. Second, because set-top-box manufacturers choose not to sell set-top boxes at retail or directly to consumers, no rival in the tied market could be foreclosed by Cox’s tie, and therefore the alleged tie does not fall within the realm of contracts in restraint of trade or commerce proscribed by § 1 of the Sherman Act. Third, all cable companies rent set-top boxes to consumers. This suggests that tying set-top-box rentals to premium cable is simply more efficient than offering them separately. Fourth, the regulatory environment of the cable industry precludes the possibility that Cox could harm competition with its tie, as the regulatory price control on the tied product makes the plaintiffs’ tying claim implausible as a whole.
The Appeals Court also argued that it does not have to apply the rule of reason unless Plaintiffs also argued that the tie was unlawful under a rule of reason analysis. However, as Plaintiffs had expressly argued that tying arrangements must be analyzed under the per se rule, the court did not address whether Defendant’s tie would be illegal under a rule of reason analysis.
The Appeals Court therefore agreed with the District Court that Plaintiffs had failed to show that Defendant’s tying arrangement foreclosed a substantial volume of commerce in the tied-product market, and therefore the tie did not merit per se condemnation. Thus, the Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s order.
By Valerio Cosimo Romano
On 13 September 2017, the President of the Unites States, Donald Trump, issued an executive order (“Order”) prohibiting the acquisition of Lattice Semiconductor Corporation (“Lattice”) by Canyon Bridge Capital Partners, Inc. (“Canyon”). This Order is in line with a recommendation previously issued by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”).
The parties and the proposed transaction
Canyon is a private equity fund headquartered in Silicon Valley, backed by the Chinese state-owned entities that manages industrial investments and venture capital. Lattice is an Oregon-based tech company which manufactures computer chips with both commercial and military applications. In November 2016 Canyon announced the entry into a definitive agreement to acquire Lattice for a deal value of $1.3 billion.
CFIUS is an interagency committee which assists the President in evaluating the national security implications of foreign direct investment in the American economy. Although CFIUS is not authorized to block deals, it can impose a wide range of mitigation measures where it determines such requirements can effectively address national security issues. Where CFIUS determines that national security concerns cannot be overcome with mitigation measures, it typically recommends that parties formally commit to abandoning the transaction. In the vast majority of cases, the parties agree to terminate the transaction (or to divest, if the transaction has already been completed).
CFIUS’s negative recommendation
That has not been the case for the acquisition of Lattice, where the parties went forward, hoping that the President would approve the transaction despite CFIUS’s objections. In early September 2017, CFIUS recommended that President Trump block the transaction because of potential risks to national security which could not have been addressed through mitigation. Indeed, in a statement released on September 13, 2017, CFIUS clarified that the national security risk linked to the acquisition related to the “potential transfer of intellectual property to the foreign acquirer, the Chinese government’s role in supporting this transaction, the importance of semiconductor supply chain integrity to the U.S. government, and use of Lattice products by the U.S. government.”
The strategic relevance of semiconductors’ industry
CFIUS’s statement builds on an earlier report (here and here) commissioned by the Department of Defense. Reportedly, the document concluded that China is engaging in a long-term strategy to transfer technological know-how from the U.S. to China by increasing its investments in prospectively key technologies (robotics, virtual reality, artificial intelligence), many of which require semiconductors. The Report identified the CFIUS as one of the key regulatory tools available to prevent such intellectual property transfers, and concluded that it should be given additional authority to prevent potentially harmful deals.
As we have just seen, notwithstanding the negative recommendation by CFIUS, Canyon and Lattice deferred the decision to the President, asserting that all the risks for national security could have been addressed by “comprehensive mitigation measures”. Despite this pleading, President Trump nixed the acquisition.
This is the fourth time in the American history that a President has blocked the acquisition of a US company, and the second time in a row that a deal has been blocked in the semi-conductor industry. Previously, President Obama halted the acquisition of a German semi-conductor equipment maker by a Chinese-backed company. President Obama also blocked a U.S.-based company owned by two Chinese nationals from acquiring four Oregon wind farm companies close to a naval base. Similarly, President George W. Bush prohibited a Chinese entity from buying an aerospace and aircraft parts manufacturer.
There is reason to believe that, during the current presidential mandate, the U.S. administration will increase the scrutiny of commercial transactions in areas which might prove strategic to national interests. Technology is certainly one of the chief areas of concern.
U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit Affirms a Preliminary Injunction against Movie Filtering Service on Copyright Grounds
By Valerio Cosimo Romano
On 24 August 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (“Appeals Court”) affirmed a preliminary injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (“District Court”) against the defendant in an action under the Copyright Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).
Disney Enterprises, LucasFilm Limited, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and Warner Brothers Entertainment (“Studios” or “Plaintiffs”) produce and distribute copyrighted motion pictures and television shows through several distribution channels. The Studios employ technological protection measures (“TPMs”) to protect against unauthorized access to and copying of their works.
VidAngel, Inc. (“VidAngel” or “Defendant”) operates an online streaming service that removes objectionable content from movies and television shows. It purchases physical discs containing copyrighted movies and television shows, rips a digital copy and streams to its customers a filtered version of the work.
The Studios filed suit against VidAngel, alleging copyright infringement and circumvention of technological measures controlling access to copyrighted works in violation of the DMCA. At the moment of filing suit, Defendant offered more than eighty copyrighted works, which it was not licensed or otherwise authorized to copy, perform, or access. VidAngel denied the statutory violations and raised affirmative defenses of fair use and legal authorization by the Family Movie Act of 2005 (“FMA”).
The Studios moved for a preliminary injunction, and the District Court granted the motion, enjoining Defendant from copying and streaming, transmitting, or otherwise publicly performing or displaying any of Plaintiff’s copyrighted works, circumventing technological measures protecting Plaintiff’s copyrighted works or engaging in any other activity that violates, directly or indirectly.
The District Court found that Defendant had circumvented the technological measures controlling access to the Studios’ works and violated the Studios’ exclusive right to reproduce and publicly perform their works. The District Court rejected instead Defendant’s FMA defense, holding that the service did not comply with FMA (which requires a filtered transmission to “come from an ‘authorized copy’ of the motion picture) and (ii) that Defendant was not likely to succeed on its fair use defense.
VidAngel appealed, claiming that FMA exempts VidAngel from liability for copyright infringement and that anti-circumvention provision of the DMCA does not cover the plaintiffs’ technological protection measures.
Merits of the case
First, the Appeals Court found that the District Court had not abused its discretion in concluding that Defendant’s copying infringed the Studios’ exclusive reproduction right, because lawful owners of a copy of the copyrighted work are only entitled to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy, and not to reproduce it.
The Appeals Court also found that the District Court had not abused its discretion in finding that the Studios are likely to succeed on their DMCA claim because VidAngel had offered no evidence that the Studios had either explicitly or implicitly authorized DVD buyers to circumvent encryption technology to access the digital contents of their discs.
The Appeals Court then moved to VidAngel’s defenses. It found that The FMA exempts compliant filtered performances, rather than the processes that make such performances possible. Moreover, the Court found that FMA has been created to provide for the protection of intellectual property rights, which would not be preserved by VidAngel’s interpretation of the statute. Indeed, VidAngel does not stream from an authorized copy of the Studios’ motion pictures: it streams from the “master file” copy it created by ripping the movies from discs after circumventing their TPMs. Therefore, the District Court had not abused its discretion in concluding that VidAngel is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its FMA defense to the Studios’ copyright infringement claims.
In order to exclude infringement on copyright, Defendant also relied on the fair use theory. In determining whether the use of a copyrighted work is fair, the Appeals Court considered again: (i) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (ii) the nature of the copyrighted work; (iii) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (iv) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The Appeals Court sided again with the District Court, affirming that VidAngel’s service simply omits portions that viewers find objectionable, and transmits them for the same intrinsic entertainment value as the originals. Therefore, VidAngel’s use is not transformative (and thus it cannot be protected by fair use).
VidAngel also raised a defense related to the economic effects of its business. It argued that its service actually benefits the Studios because it purchases discs and expands the audience for the copyrighted works to viewers who would not watch without filtering. However, the Appeals Court confirmed the District Court’s view that VidAngel’s service is an effective substitute for Plaintiff’s unfiltered works and that neither the fact that VidAngel purchases the discs excuses its infringement, because any allegedly positive impact of Defendant’s activities on Plaintiffs’ prior market in no way frees defendant to usurp a further market that directly derives from reproduction of the plaintiffs’ copyrighted works. Thus, and a market harm caused by the infringing activity can be presumed.
Irreparable harm and balance of equities
As for irreparable harm, the Appeals Court sided with the District Court in determining that VidAngel’s service undermines the value of the Studios’ copyrighted works, their business model, their goodwill and negotiating leverage with licensees and that the loss of goodwill, negotiating leverage, and that non-monetary terms in the Studios’ licenses cannot readily be remedied with damages. The Appeals court therefore concluded that the eventual financial hardship deriving from discontinuance of infringing activities does not outweigh the irreparable harm likely to befall the Studios without an injunction.
For these reasons, the Appeals Court affirmed the preliminary injunction from the District Court.
By Gabriel M. Lentner
The U.S.-based Bridgestone Licensing Services, Inc. and Bridgestone Americas, Inc. lodged a claim against Panama over trademarks at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The claim relates to a decision rendered by the Supreme Court of Panama concerning Bridgestone’s trademarks in Panama and is based on the Panama-US Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA). The arbitral tribunal is currently dealing with “Expedited Objections”.
A key issue in this dispute is whether the ownership of the FIRESTONE trademark and rights to sell, market and distribute BRIDGESTONE and FIRESTONE branded products in Panama constitute “investments” under Art 10.29 of the TPA, as argued by the claimants. Under this provision the term “investment” is defined as “means every asset that an investor owns or controls, directly or indirectly, that has the characteristics of an investment, including such characteristics as the commitment of capital or other resources, the expectation of gain or profit, or the assumption of risk. Forms that an investment may take include: … (f) intellectual property rights; (g) licenses, … and similar rights conferred pursuant to domestic law” In a footnote it is clarified that “Among the licenses, authorizations, permits, and similar instruments that do not have the characteristics of an investment are those that do not create any rights protected under domestic law.”
Bridgestone argues inter alia that its licenses are to be considered intellectual property rights and therefore covered investments. In addition, they contend that these licenses create rights protected under Panamanian law, since they concern trademarks registered in Panama.
Panama on the other hand challenges these arguments stating that Bridgestone does not have an “investment” within the meaning of the ICSID Convention (Art 25) and the TPA. Rather, Panama views the activities of Bridgestone as ordinary commercial transactions outside the scope of investment arbitration. More specifically responding to the Claimant’s argument, Panama disputes that the three licenses at issue do have the characteristics of an investment as they do not create any rights protected under Panamanian law.
Still pending, this case as it adds to the growing number of international investment disputes involving intellectual property rights (see cases of Philip Morris v Australia and Philip Morris v Uruguay, Eli Lilly v Canada). There is still a lot of uncertainty in this area of law and hence it will be interesting to see the final outcome and the reasoning of the tribunal dealing with the issue of investment and IP.
By Bart Kolodziejczyk
The face of genetic engineering is being revolutionized with the emergence of the CRISPR/Cas9 technology. You have probably heard of it, but if you haven’t, here you go: CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and it is a group of bacterial DNA sequences into which pieces of viral DNA were plugged into while the bacterium was being attacked. The CRISPR/Cas9 is a genome editing technology that can be used to alter genes in living organisms permanently.
In July 2017, a research team in the U.S proved that they could alter the DNA of human embryos using CRISPR/Cas9 technology. However, there have been controversies surrounding this technology, mainly because of ethical and biosafety concerns. Importantly, the question of who owns the patent to this technology is also undecided, which brings up the question of who can use the technology for commercial purposes.
The CRISPR battle is being spearheaded by the University of California (UC) against the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its associates. UC claims that it has a patent that covers the uses of CSISPR in every type of cell, but the Broad Institute claims that they should own the patent that covers the use of the technology in eukaryotes, which is the focal point for the development of human medicines using the CRISPR technology,
The group of litigants led by the UC argue that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) ruled wrongly in February in favor of the the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and two associates — Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge — in a judgement that said the Broad group invented the use of CRISPR usage in eukaryotic cells. In order to overturn the ruling, the UC filed an appeal based on the argument that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) “ignored key evidence” and “made multiple errors.” This argument was contained in a brief sent to the U.S Court of Appeals on July 25.
However, the battle for ownership of CRISPR took a dramatic turn when Millipore Sigma, a subsidiary of Merck KGaA, a German pharmaceutical company entered into the fray. In a claim filed by Millipore Sigma, they claim that they have the right to merge genetic information into eukaryotic cells using CRISPR and that “the method does not comprise a process for modifying the germ line genetic identity of a human being.” The battle seems far from coming to an end as a statement credited to the European Patent Office (EPO) shows that it intends to grant a patent to Millipore Sigma to own the use of CRISPR in this manner. There are other similar patents being submitted, and some have been granted, for example in Australia.
Therefore, even though the CRISPR technology has ushered in new frontiers in genetic engineering, the subject of who owns what looks like it might be the topic of controversial discussions for a while.
By Nicole Daniel
In January 2017 Apple filed suit against Qualcomm over its allegedly abusive licensing practices regarding wireless patents.
Apple filed patent, antitrust and breach of contract claims against Qualcomm; this could result in damages of billions of dollars. Apple’s suit comes after recent legal challenges against Qualcomm filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in federal court and a class action by smartphone buyers. Furthermore, Korean authorities levied their own $854 million penalty and China’s National Development and Reform Commission extracted a penalty amounting to nearly $1 billion in 2015. Also in 2015 the European Commission sent statements of objections to Qualcomm.
Apple alleges that Qualcomm abused its monopoly in baseband processors that power both the iPad and the iPhone and broke its promise to license its standard essential patents at FRAND, i.e. fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory, rates. Qualcomm breached its FRAND obligations by selling chipsets powering smartphones and tablets and separately licensing standard-essential patents. Apple further alleges that Qualcomm refused to sell chipsets to customers unless they first licensed their standard-essential patents. This allegation is central to the Federal Trade Commission’s case too as well as Apple’s allegation that Qualcomm does not licence its standard-essential patents to competing chipset manufacturers. Tying the chipsets and licenses to cellular technology illegally strengthened Qualcomm’s monopoly and eliminated competition. Another allegation by Apple is that Qualcomm threatened customers who purchased chipsets from competitors with less favorable license and royaltyi terms.
Not only did Qualcomm charge inflated royalties for its patents but it also engaged in allegedly intimidating business practices. For example, Qualcomm allegedly tried to force Apple to lie to the South Korean antitrust enforcer in exchange for $1 billion which Qualcomm was obliged to pay anyway. Apple further states that because it provided evidence in antitrust investigations against Qualcomm in the U.S. and Korea, Qualcomm, as retribution, withheld $1 billion that it owed to Apple. Apple now wants damages for having been overcharged billions of dollars, enjoin Qualcomm from engaging in further violations of the law and declaratory relief holding that Apple does not infringe on a number of patents owned by Qualcomm. Apple also asks the court to determine the proper FRAND rates.
Qualcomm countered by calling Apple’s allegations “baseless” and accusing its opponent of encouraging the regulatory “attacks” on Qualcomm. Also the antitrust claims are driven by commercial disputes and Qualcomm will continue to defend its business model.
Furthermore, Qualcomm learned in January 2017 that an Apple subsidiary filed two complaints against Qualcomm in the Chinese intellectual property court. The first complaint regards inter alia violations of Chinese anti-monopoly law by offering excessive royalty terms on patents and chipsets whereas the second complaint regards a refusal to provide to Apple a royalty offer for cellular standard essential patents consistent with FRAND terms.
In April 2017 Qualcomm filed an answer and counterclaims in California federal court. In its filing Qualcomm detailed the value of the technologies it has invented and alleged that Apple failed to engage in good faith negotiations for licensing 3G and 4G essential patents on FRAND terms. The filing further outlines that Apple allegedly breached and mischaracterized both agreements and negotiations. Apple further encouraged regulatory attacks in various jurisdictions and did not utilize the full performance of Qualcomm’s modern chips in the iPhone 7. Apple allegedly also misrepresented the disparity in performance between iPhones using competitor-supplied modems and Qualcomm modems. Qualcomm was even threatened by Apple to prevent it from making any public comparisons about the superior performance of iPhones powered by Qualcomm.
Also in April 2017 Apple published a written statement stating that it has chosen to withhold patent royalties owed to Qualcomm by its contract manufacturers because over the course of the last five years Qualcomm has refused to negotiate fair terms.
It remains to be seen how the proceedings in this case continue.