Apple Threatens UK Exit Over Patent Dispute

Lawyers for Apple have issued a extraordinary warning amid a patent dispute over technology used in the iPhone handset.

Apple’s lawyers warned the tech giant could quit the UK market if a court forces the company to pay a ‘commercially unacceptable’ fee for the technology used in its iPhones.

The legal battle centres around Texas-based Optis Cellular Technology, which some would describe as a patent holder, while others would describe it as a patent troll.

Optis reportedly acquired some standards-essential LTE patents in order to pursue claims such as this.

Patent dispute

As a background Apple lost a $506.2 million patent infringement case in a US courtroom, to Optis Wireless Technology in August 2020, over 4G technology used in Apple’s iPhone.

But Apple appealed, and in April 2021 a US judge agreed with Apple and overturned the $506 million in damages award against it.

However that was not the end of the matter, as the legal battle was also being waged by Optis in the UK.

Optis won a separate case against Apple in the UK, this time claiming billions (up to $7 billion) rather than just millions of dollars.

According to This is Money, last month a High Court judge ruled that Apple had infringed two Optis patents, which help iPhones connect to the 3G and 4G networks.

Apple reportedly faces a trial in 2022 over how much it should pay.

But now Apple has threatened it could walk away from the UK market if the court rules that it has to pay the fees.

Leaving the UK market would mean it doesn’t have to pay.

Empty bluff?

But Mr Justice Meade reportedly suggested this was unlikely, saying: “There is no evidence Apple is really going to say no [to paying the rate set by the judge], is there? There is no evidence it is even remotely possible Apple will leave the UK market?”

“I am not sure that is right,” Apple’s lawyer Marie Demetriou replied. “Apple’s position is it should indeed be able to reflect on the terms and decide whether commercially it is right to accept them or to leave the UK market. There may be terms that are set by the court which are just commercially unacceptable.”

It is reported there will be a separate court case later this month over whether Apple should make a legally-binding pledge to abide by the payout rate decided at trial in July 2022.

Apple could be banned from selling iPhones in the UK if it refuses to make undertakings to the court, This is Money reported.

“Everyone thinks about Apple as the market leader in smartphones, but Apple has to buy in most of the technology in an iPhone,” Kathleen Fox Murphy of EIP Legal, which representing Optis, reportedly said.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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