Ericsson sues Apple again over 5G patent royalties

19 Jan 2022

Image: © Sundry Photography/Stock.adobe.com

This is the latest in a series of legal battles between the two companies over patent licensing agreements.

Ericsson has filed a new set of patent infringement lawsuits against tech giant Apple, seeking royalty payments for the use of patented 5G wireless technology in iPhones.

In 2021, both companies sued each other in the US after negotiations failed when it came to renewing a seven-year licensing contract, first signed in 2015, for telecoms patents.

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Ericsson filed a suit in October claiming Apple was trying to improperly cut down royalty rates. The Swedish company was seeking a judgement favouring its proposed licensing rates under ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory’ licensing (FRAND) guidelines.

Apple fought back with its own suit in December, accusing Ericsson of using “strong-arm tactics” to renew patents.

“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 … we are asking the court to help determine a fair price,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters this week.

In the latest suit filed in the US, Ericsson claims that Apple devices are using its patented 5G inventions without paying for them. The Swedish company has more than 57,000 patents and gets around a third of its operating profit from patent royalties.

“Since the prior agreement has expired and we have been unable to reach agreement on the terms and scope of a new licence, Apple is now using our technology without a licence,” an Ericsson spokesman told Reuters.

Bloomberg reports that Ericsson has also filed US trade complaints seeking to block imports of Apple devices that it says infringe some of its patents.

Patent lawsuits are quite common among technology companies due to the amount that can be earned over the duration of licensing agreements. Last year, Ericsson settled patent lawsuits with Samsung after several months in court and signed a multi-year agreement on cellular tech licences.

In the most recent suits, Ericsson said it wants $5 per iPhone while Apple believes it should pay less since its market share is greater now than it was in 2015.

In November, a number of tech companies including Apple and Google lost a court challenge against a US Patent and Trademark Office policy that reduced the number of patent disputes it considers.

Apple has a website statement on licensing that says “everyone stands to benefit” when standard patents are licensed under FRAND terms.

“On the other hand, when companies use the market power of a standard and standard essential patents to demand unfair, unreasonable or discriminatory terms, consumers are harmed and fewer choices are available,” the statement adds.

Update, 8.50am, 24 January 2022: Apple is now countersuing Ericsson and seeking a US import ban on its 5G equipment. According to FOSS Patents, Apple filed a complaint in the US on Wednesday (19 January), as Ericsson filed patent infringement actions in Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil over 5G and other patents.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com