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Apple suppliers withhold royalty payments to Qualcomm amid legal spat

Slide from Apple's U.S. litigation against Qualcomm.

Qualcomm in an earnings report released Wednesday revealed a select number of Apple's contract manufacturers are withholding royalty payments as the chipmaker clashes with the Cupertino tech giant over similar issues in federal court.

Noted in the firm's guidance for the coming fiscal quarter, certain unnamed suppliers are underpaying royalties equal to the amounts Qualcomm has not paid Apple as part of the ongoing legal battle. While the exact figure was left unmentioned, Apple in its lawsuit claims Qualcomm decided to withhold nearly $1 billion in licensing rebates after for cooperating with a Korea Fair Trade Commission probe into the chipmaker's business practices.

As contract manufacturers might also withhold payments in the third fiscal quarter of 2017, Qualcomm is widening earnings guidance for the three-month period to account for potential financial headwinds.

From Qualcomm's 8-K filing:

Apple's contract manufacturers reported, but underpaid, royalties in the second quarter of fiscal 2017. However, our revenues were not negatively impacted as the contract manufacturers acknowledged the amounts are due and the underpayment was equal to the amounts that Qualcomm has not paid Apple under our Cooperation Agreement that are currently in dispute. The Cooperation Agreement expired December 31, 2016. It is not clear whether Apple's contract manufacturers will underpay royalties owed under their contracts with us in the third quarter of fiscal 2017, which could have a negative impact on our financial results. Our guidance range for fiscal third quarter EPS is wider than our typical practice primarily due to this uncertainty.

Though Qualcomm does not expect an unduly negative result from supplier withholdings, the company did not calculate an earnings scenario where no payment is made by Apple's contract manufacturers licensing its technology.

Apple in January filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm claiming the chipmaker participates in monopolistic practices, price gouging, extortion and other nefarious acts. The suit also alleges Qualcomm flouts FRAND (fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory) patent commitments to charge customers, including suppliers, exorbitant royalty rates on standard-essential patents. Further, the chipmaker restricts sales to buyers who agreed to license its SEPs, a practice Apple refers to as "double-dipping."

Qualcomm fired back with a countersuit earlier this month, claiming Apple breached contractural agreements. Apple's goal, Qualcomm says, is to pay less than fair market value for access to Qualcomm's standard essential patents.

In addition to breach of contract, Qualcomm alleges Apple interferes with contract manufacturers and wrongly induced regulatory action in a number of jurisdictions. For example, the South Korean probe resulted in a massive $854 million fine.

Apple is also accused of throttling Qualcomm modems used in iPhone 7 models operating on Sprint and Verizon networks, then prevented Qualcomm from revealing mismatched performance metrics compared to iPhone 7 models running competing Intel components. For its part, Apple acknowledges it deactivated certain performance enhancing Qualcomm features, saying the decision was made to achieve parity across its smartphone lineup.