SCOTUS asks gov't to weigh in on Apple's challenge to Qualcomm patents

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Qualcomm's logo is seen at its booth at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2015 in Beijing, China, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/

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(Reuters) - The U.S. government will express its opinion about a case involving Apple and Qualcomm, after the Supreme Court on Tuesday requested the solicitor general's views.

Apple has asked the high court to review an appeals court decision that blocked it from challenging Qualcomm smartphone patents there because of a global settlement agreement between the two companies that let Apple continue using Qualcomm modem chips and granted the tech giant a license to tens of thousands of Qualcomm patents.

Apple said that it faces the threat of more litigation from Qualcomm after their agreement ends, and that the decision could block it from challenging the patents in a new case.

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Qualcomm sued Apple in San Diego federal court in 2017, alleging its iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches infringed a variety of patents, as part of a broad dispute between the two companies over smartphone technology.

Apple then challenged the two patents at issue in this case at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which upheld their validity.

The parties settled the underlying infringement dispute in 2019 with an agreement worth billions of dollars, but allowed the validity proceedings to continue through the appeals process.

The Federal Circuit denied Apple's appeal of the board decision last year. The court rejected Apple's arguments that it had standing to appeal based on its license payments, or because it could be barred from challenging the patents if Qualcomm sues again.

The appeals court also ruled for Qualcomm in a related case in November 2021, where Circuit Judge Pauline Newman dissented.

Qualcomm encouraged the high court to deny Apple's petition, arguing that the case did not involve any important or unsettled legal issues.

The companies and their attorneys didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Apple Inc v. Qualcomm Inc, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 21-746.

For Apple: Mark Fleming of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr

For Qualcomm: Aaron Streett of Baker Botts

Read more:

Apple lacks standing to appeal Qualcomm PTAB win, Fed Circuit says

Apple loses bid for second bite at Qualcomm patents after license

Qualcomm stock jumps 23 percent on surprise settlement with Apple

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com