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What you need to know

  • Apple is being sued by Ericsson.
  • Two lawsuits claim Apple is now using the company's radio patents without permission.
  • The companies had a deal dating back to 2015 that has now expired and talks to broker a new one that includes 5G tech appears to have faltered.

Apple is being sued by Ericsson over claims the Cupertino company is using its patents for 2G, 3G, and 4G technology without permission.

In two separate suits filed January 17, Ericsson alleges that Apple is no longer allowed to license Ericsson's patents pertaining to wireless connectivity in devices like the iPhone 13 and its other best iPhones, now that a 2015 deal has expired:

Apple is the largest smartphone manufacturer in the United States and requires a license to Ericsson's Essential Patents. Apple first licensed Ericsson's 2G and 3G Essential Patents in 2008 when it released the first iPhone. In 2015, Apple and Ericsson executed another global cross-license, covering both parties' patents related to the 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular standards. Based on the expiration of those licenses, Apple is no longer licensed to Ericsson's Essential Patents.

The suit, filed in Texas because Apple has "continuous and systematic business contacts with the State of Texas", seeks a jury trial and a ruling stating that Apple has infringed on the asserted patens and a ruling of damages to compensation. As is often the case with patents considered essential to device functionality (such as the use of 2G, 3G, and 4G on a mobile device), Ericsson doesn't want to stop Apple from using these technologies but is rather seeking compensation. The 2015 deal having expired, Ericsson appears to have sought out a new deal that would include 5G with Apple, however, these talks appear to have fizzled out.

In a statement reported by IAM Ericsson said:

We can confirm that Ericsson has filed a number of lawsuits against Apple for patent infringement in multiple jurisdictions. Since the prior agreement has expired, and we have been unable to reach agreement on the terms and scope of a new license, Apple is now using our technology without a license.

Ericsson's annual investments in R&D of $5 billion have led to our leading global position in 5G, and a leading 5G patent portfolio. The possibility for fair compensation through patent licensing is important to ensure new investments in innovation that benefit our customers and consumers everywhere.

These cases are ongoing, and Ericsson will refrain from making any further comments at this point.

As noted by FOSS Patents Ericsson brought FRAND action against Apple at the end of 2021 after Apple refused to accept a $5/unit licensing offer on the matter, setting up the current dispute.

Speaking to iMore, patent litigation expert Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents stated "Ericsson v. Apple is the most significant 5G patent spat to date. There's every indication that the parties are far apart on what Apple as the net licensee should pay." Mueller further noted that when the last deal was signed in 2015 various court rulings "favored implementers like Apple", but that in recent years "the pendulum has swung back and the case law is now more favorable to Ericsson."

iMore has reached out to both Ericsson and Apple on the matter.