Apple sues Ericsson over standards-essential patents

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Following a ban of 5G-equipped iPhones and iPads in Colombia, Apple has fought back against Ericsson in its 5G patent infringement row by filing its first ever lawsuit over what it claims should be treated as essential ones to global standards.

Apple and Ericsson are in an ongoing courtroom battle over 5G patents, with Ericsson accusing Apple of infringing on its intellectual property. However, in an attempt to get the upper hand on Ericsson, Apple is now launching its first standard-essential patent lawsuit.

Taking place in Munich, the filing has Apple asserting an SEP concerning 4G technology, against Ericsson's 4G LTE-equipped hardware. While it is unclear if Apple will be seeking an injunction in this particular case, it does mark a major first for the company.

Apple's filing rests on a patent for "Virtualized network function management," reports FOSS Patents. Originally filed by Intel, the patent was transferred over to Apple as part of the iPhone maker's $1 billion purchase of Intel's modem business in 2019, which included over 17,000 wireless technology patents.

A standard-essential patent is claimed to be needed for compliance with a technical standard, and therefore must be licensed by others or face being sued for royalties. While Apple has typically been the subject of lawsuits that involved SEPs over the years, this is seemingly the first time Apple is wielding its own SEP in a filing.

Though Ericsson's main gripe with Apple is over 5G patents, Apple's SEP is against 4G LTE, another communications technology that Ericsson's products employ.

The Munich I Regional Court has set case number 21 O 1970/22's first hearing to occur on February 15, 2023, under the 21st Civil Chamber presided by the judge, Dr. Georg Werner. Later, on March 1, a hearing on a separate Apple-Ericsson countersuit will be heard about a non-SEP patent owned by Apple for an "apparatus, system, and method of wireless backhaul and access communication via a common antenna strategy."

The move is the latest in a long and extensive patent infringement battle between the two companies. This has included the filing of multiple lawsuits in Europe and the UK, activity with the U.S. International Trade Commission, and Ericsson going after a Brazilian distributor of Apple products.

Ericsson has also successfully gained an injunction in Colombia, preventing the import, sale, and advertising of any 5G-equipped iPhone or iPad.