Qualcomm has been granted permission by the US District Court for the Southern District of California to depose Apple’s services chief Eddy Cue, in addition to CEO Tim Cook, as part of the chipmaker's effort to determine whether Apple worked with Samsung to focus regulatory scrutiny on Qualcomm.
The access to Cue is important because Qualcomm alleges talks between executives at Apple and its rival Samsung Electronics Co Ltd were central to its decision to cut off Apple from a stream of nearly US$1 billion in licensing rebate payments.
Apple sued Qualcomm early last year, contesting the San Diego-based chipmaker's licensing practices and asking for those rebate payments back. Qualcomm then sued Apple for patent infringement in several countries. As part of the disputes, Qualcomm is also seeking to ban the import of some iPhones it believes are violating its patents.
In the lawsuit in Southern California filed by Apple, Qualcomm has alleged that at a conference in Idaho in 2015, a top Apple executive encouraged Samsung to "get aggressive" in asking South Korean antitrust regulators to pursue action against the chipmaker.
Cook and Cue are regular attendees of a media mogul conference held each year in Sun Valley, Idaho. The Apple executive in question, Qualcomm alleged, explained that a regulatory ruling on Samsung's home turf would be Samsung's "best chance" to force Qualcomm to change its licensing practices.
Qualcomm did not name the Apple executive cited in its filings. However, the conversation between Apple and Samsung is important because Qualcomm alleges it amounted to Apple "wrongfully inducing" a regulatory action against Qualcomm.
Qualcomm said such a move violated a cooperation agreement it had with Apple and that it stopped sending rebate payments to Apple because of that and other violations of the agreement.
Apple has argued in court filings that it cooperated with requests from regulators and that Qualcomm improperly retaliated against it for doing so.
Though Qualcomm is known as a chipmaker, its profit has been driven by a patent licensing business. Some of Qualcomm's practices caused conflicts with customers such as Apple and Huawei Technologies, as well as with regulators in China, Korea and the United States.
Qualcomm has begun changing some of those practices to become more "regulator friendly," its executives have said.
Apple declined to comment, and Samsung and Qualcomm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis)