Ericsson’s latest patent-licensing battle with iPhone maker Apple comes to UK High Court as two sides argue over terms for new license
Ericsson has sued Apple in the UK as part of a multi-jurisdictional battle over 5G patents used in Apple’s iPhone smartphones.
The action means the company now has lawsuits against Apple over 5G patent licensing in at least six countries, the others being the US, Brazil, Columbia, Germany and the Netherlands.
The Swedish networking technology firm sued Apple in federal court in Texas in October 2021 over the issue and mediation talks in the Eastern District of Texas recently broke down.
Ericsson, represented by law firm Taylor Wessing, filed two actions with the High Court on 6 June naming Apple Retail UK and Apple Distribution International, along with Apple’s main US entity, FOSS Patents reported.
The two cases, HP-2022-000013 and HP-2022-000014, are identified as “Part 7” claims covering patents and registered designs and have been assigned to the Patents Court.
The patents involved in the suit have not been disclosed, but Ericsson’s other actions relate to standard-essential patents for 5G technologies.
Ericsson began licensing its networking patents to Apple in 2008 with the introduction of the iPhone and engaged in a legal battle in California in 2015 over negotiations for a new licence.
In the Texas court case last year it accused Apple of using improper tactics to lower the royalty rates it has to pay and refusing to license the patents under anything but its own terms.
“For technology leaders like Ericsson, making early and heavy investments in R&D, the possibility for fair compensation through patent licensing is important to ensure new investments in innovation and the continued success of open, collaborative standardisation,” Ericsson said at the time.
Patent holders are required by international law to license patents essential to a standard such as 5G under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
Disputes over FRAND licensing have led to several high-profile court battles in the past.
In the 2015 case Apple argued Ericsson’s patents weren’t essential, that it did not infringe them and that Ericsson was demanding excessive royalties.
Ericsson said in its complaint last year that in the current negotiations Apple has continued its claims that the rates being demanded aren’t FRAND and that the only way of making them compliant is to “adhere to Apple’s self-declared methodology”.
The methodology in question would require “hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars and several human lifetimes” to analyse Ericsson’s thousands of patents in “dozens of courts worldwide”, and are a tactic to make patent owners accept Apple’s lower rates, according to the complaint.
Mobile patent licensees generally agree to global patent portfolio licenses, the company said.
Apple responded with a lawsuit in December 2021 accusing Ericsson of using “strong-arm tactics” to renew its licence agreement.
“Ericsson has refused to negotiate fair terms for renewing our patent licensing agreement, and instead has been suing Apple around the world to extort excessive royalties,” Apple said in January of this year. “We are asking the court to help determine a fair price.”
One or more of the courts being applied to by Ericsson may issue an injunction against Apple requiring it to stop using Ericsson’s unlicensed patents, or they may find in Apple’s favour — or the two sides may reach an out-of-court settlement, as has happened in the past, notably with the December 2015 settlement that concluded the two companies’ last patent dispute.