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Why does Qualcomm's Pre-Trial Motion Win Against Apple Matter?

Gaston Kroub

Trial is coming to San Diego, as tech titans Apple and Qualcomm gear up for trial in a case has been derisively referred to by one commentator as “just a nuisance lawsuit.” For the parties, however, trial matters, if only because a jury verdict would dominate the news cycle in favor of the victor, with concomitant impact on the short-term share price of the participants as well. Moreover, even though a trial victory would be at best an incremental one on the long march towards a resolution in the ultimate dispute between the combatants, any time a jury passes judgment on the strength of each side’s narrative it is important. Whichever way the verdict falls we can expect both sides to take notice — and perhaps adjust their approach to the case if their narrative falls flat.

Put another way, trial is perhaps the best way for each side to tell its story to members of the general public. How that story is presented often is shaped by various pre-trial rulings by the presiding judge, both in terms of what issues of fact will be tried and what types of evidence will be allowed or excluded. On the latter point, both Qualcomm and Apple filed motions in limine to exclude evidence and argument that they argued was more prejudicial than probative, and thus unfit for the tender ears of the jury.

As is common, the Court “ruled from the bench on all of the motions“ but one, Qualcomm’s motion to “exclude evidence or argument regarding its portfolio licenses or portfolio licensing terms” from presentation to the jury. (Decision at 1). Ruling in Qualcomm’s favor, the Court rejected Apple’s contention that “the licenses and licensing terms are relevant to Qualcomm’s motivation in bringing suit and to put the present litigation in context.” (Id. at 2). This ruling will therefore frustrate Apple’s efforts to put Qualcomm’s general licensing practices on trial, leaving the jury to focus on the particulars of Qualcomm’s demands of Apple. For its part, Qualcomm and its investors will be pleased that the company will not have to fight a distracting rearguard action in defense of its licensing history before the jury. The decision may be a short one, but the impact on each side’s trial presentation is significant.

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