American multinational semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm has accused Apple of stealing chip secrets and giving them to Intel. The two organisations have been in a constant legal battle since early 2017. This latest development could hit Apple hard and heavy. The legal battle started when Apple accused Qualcomm of abusing the power it has of possessing the best smartphone modems by overcharging significantly for them.
This accusation from Qualcomm could turn the tables of this legal battle entirely. The companies have had an ongoing agreement; proclaimed as the “Master Software Agreement”. A term of this agreement allows one party to audit source code from the other, a term that Qualcomm has requested to put into action now. Apple, surprisingly, has declined. Qualcomm has said that it has proof that Apple’s engineers have been stealing code and sending it on to Intel.
The premises of the accusation are that Apple, who buy their modem chips from Intel, stole information from Qualcomm and passed it on. This would have been done in order to improve the quality of Intel’s modems. Apple only uses Intel modems in their iPhones, their flagship product for several years now. This is not the first time Qualcomm has accused Apple of this either. An identical scenario played out last year which, too, is a part of the ongoing legal battle.
Allegedly, Qualcomm’s code has been used in Apple’s source code and Intel-based smartphones elsewhere. Qualcomm has said that “vast swaths” of their code has been stolen and reused illegally. Donald Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s General Counsel, told CNBC that regardless of whether there was an ongoing legal battle going on, this matter will be taken to court anyway. He said, “Unlawful use of Qualcomm’s valuable trade secrets to try to help a competitor catch up irreparably harms us and must not be allowed to continue.”
The Master Software Agreement
Apple and Qualcomm have had an agreement since 2009, which allowed Apple to use Qualcomm code on the sole condition that it only be used with Qualcomm chips. By using Qualcomm’s code with Intel chips, Apple is in direct violation of this. In return, Qualcomm was supposed to be allowed to audit or investigate Apple’s use of their code at any time. Qualcomm now claims that when they requested an opportunity to audit the code last year, the request was denied.
An anonymous post on a website, The Layoff, which is used to collect data regarding people who have claimed to have been laid off, presented Qualcomm with the opportunity to apply for this audit. The post, which claimed to be from an Intel employee, said that software engineers there “were told to ignore intellectual property rights when designing the modem” and that there was “a conspiracy to copy Qualcomm’s technology” using help from Apple. Apple has allegedly declined to investigate. The denying of the audit also gave rise to suspicion within Qualcomm’s legal team.
If all goes according to plan, the legal case will continue in April of 2018. So far, this battle between the two tech supergiants has been entertaining, to say the least.