Apple relies on two companies, Intel and Qualcomm, for the components the iPhone lineup uses to manage wireless connectivity. But incorporating those parts in the world's most popular smartphone doesn't mean Apple's particularly friendly with either company. Recently it's started using AMD processors in Mac devices, for example, instead of those made by Intel. Its relationship with Qualcomm is even more strained.
How strained? Well, on a scale from "not talking at Thanksgiving dinner" to "filing multiple billion-dollar lawsuits against each other," it's the latter. That seems unlikely to change--CNBC reported that Qualcomm accused Apple of "stealing 'vast swaths' of confidential information and trade secrets for the purpose of improving the performance of chips provided by rival Intel" so it wouldn't have to rely as much on Qualcomm chips.
This is the latest escalation in the back-and-forth between Apple and Qualcomm that started in early 2017 after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused Qualcomm of abusing the popularity of its tech to have an effective monopoly in the smartphone market. Apple followed those allegations with $1 billion lawsuits, one in San Diego and one in Beijing, saying Qualcomm used its position to charge unfair royalties.
Things got worse from there. Qualcomm responded with its own lawsuits, alleged that Apple told manufacturers to break their contracts, and asked the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to halt the import of iOS devices using baseband processors that weren't made by Qualcomm. The company also said that Apple started withholding royalty payments in an effort to bring the conflict into the boardroom.
Apple isn't Qualcomm's only problem. The company has been accused of violating Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) patent terms to keep control of the wireless market. One of the companies making those accusations was Samsung, and the other was Intel, which also told the ITC that Qualcomm employs anti-competitive tactics. That was always ironic, but Qualcomm's latest claims make it even more so.
CNBC reported that Qualcomm discovered the alleged sharing of its trade secrets between Apple and Intel during the discovery phase of one of the ongoing lawsuits. In a complaint, Qualcomm said that "Apple engineers repeatedly provided source code and other confidential information to Intel engineers so they could improve the performance of Intel's chips," according to CNBC's report. (We don't have access to the documents.)
Qualcomm hasn't yet presented any evidence supporting its claims, but that will likely change when the case heads to court next April. In the meantime, we hear that Apple is struggling to find content for its own TV service, and we'd humbly suggest the company take inspiration from this conflict. This dispute between some of the industry's biggest companies is definitely shaping up to be popcorn-worthy.