Apple hopes to avoid Qualcomm’s wrath in Germany

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Apple has made a change to iOS to try and ward off a legal challenge in Germany.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

China isn’t the only place where Apple is trying to ward off a possible legal challenge from Qualcomm. According to a new report, it has introduced a change to iOS that affects only users in Germany.

It comes before a hearing, scheduled for later today, in which a German court will hear that Apple allegedly violated Qualcomm’s patents.

The change was triggered by the number of lawsuits Qualcomm initiated around the world, based on Apple apparently using proprietary technology owned by Qualcomm. A Chinese court has already ruled in Qualcomm’s favor.

The tweak was made earlier this year on the German version of iOS. It apparently alters how users search their contact books using the iOS Spotlight feature. It is not a major change and is described by the Financial Times as, “so subtle that it passed largely unnoticed by users.”

However, Apple hopes it will be enough to quash Qualcomm’s legal challenge even if Apple is found to have originally violated Qualcomm’s patent. Apple is presumably worried about a potential iPhone ban in Germany as has already been ordered for some models (although seemingly not followed) in China.

Apple has acknowledged that a ban of these iPhones in China would cost it millions of dollars a day, and force it to settle with Qualcomm. If something similar happened in additional countries, this would only be speeded up.

More fragmented iOS software?

This may not be enough though. Qualcomm’s case in Germany involves multiple patents, including one related to power management. This is supposedly tougher to “design around” because it relates more closely to the iPhone’s hardware.

This is not the first time that Apple has introduced region-specific tweaks for its iOS software. But as the Financial Times observes:

“[C]hanges made in response to legal threats are rare. It has issued only a handful of such software updates in the past several years. Such country-by-country fragmentation of iOS might become less unusual as its increasingly bitter litigation with Qualcomm progresses, following another patent case that went against Apple last week in China.”

Apple and Qualcomm are currently scheduled to meet in court next April. Qualcomm alleges that Apple owes it $7 billion in royalties. It also claims that Apple has stolen its proprietary trade secrets and passed them on to Intel.