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Continued Apple-Qualcomm Legal Battle Leads to iPhone Ban Request

  • Cedric Brenninkmeijer
  • July 7, 2017
  • 0

Qualcomm has requested the U.S. International Trade Commission to ban the import of certain iPhones that do not use Qualcomm chips, as well as ban Apple from selling any devices that have already been imported. The complaint accuses Apple’s iPhone of infringing six of Qualcomm’s mobile patents.

If successful, the ban would affect the importing and selling of the iPhone 7, 7 Plus and possibly even future iPhones. These include the models running on both AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as including certain iPads. Instead of Qualcomm chips, the devices utilize Intel’s 4G chips, while phones from other carriers including Verizon use Qualcomm’s processors. While these parameters limit the scope of the ban, the limited scope also increases the likelihood of the ban going through. Furthermore, by targeting devices that do not use Qualcomm’s chips, means that the ban avoids hurting Qualcomm’s chip business, which makes a lot of revenue from supplying Apple.

According to Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s general counsel, the crux of Qualcomm’s argument is that Apple utilizes its technology without paying for it. Despite negotiations on both sides to address this, neither has budged in compromising the price and yet Apple still continues to use the technology despite infringing on Qualcomm’s patents. This left Qualcomm with no choice but to request the aid of the U.S. Trade Commission.

The ITC will start investigating the complaint in August, followed by an expected trial date sometime next year, meaning that any decision, and ban, would not be implemented for 18 months. Qualcomm is also pursuing a new patent infringement case in the Southern District of California. Rosenberg expects this second case to be put on hold until the ITC makes a decision concerning the first, but acts as a backup plan should the first case end in a ruling in favor of Apple.

This is not the first fight in a drawn out tussle between the two companies, with Apple also pursuing legal action against Qualcomm. Apple has reported that Qualcomm has been engaging in illegal business practices at the expense of Apple and the entire industry by forcing companies to pay royalties for technological breakthroughs that Apple believes Qualcomm has not been responsible for. Apple has repeatedly stated that they believe in intellectual property and respect its implications, but Qualcomm has refused to negotiate a reasonable price and expecting an unfair rate for use of the standard technology used in Apple products.

Apple and Qualcomm have been engaged in legal fights over patents since January, with Apple observing that Qualcomm did not give fair licensing terms for its technology, which Qualcomm justifies by stating that no modern mobile device, including the iPhone, would be possible without relying on Qualcomm technology.

The six patents in question are all responsible in some way for ensuring mobile devices performance can operate with improved efficiency while limiting the power use so the battery is preserved. One of the patents covers technology that bundles radio waves use by mobile devices for connections, providing network options that enable the quickest transition onto the fastest connection radio frequencies. This allows mobile devices to stream in high-quality graphics while also maintaining and increased battery life, two aspects that are fundamental to iPhones wishing to push the boundaries of mobile devices can do.

The technological capabilities apply to current iPhones in production but are also expected to play a role in future iPhones, which means a further infringement of Qualcomm’s technology. While it is not sure as to whether the ban will be successful, the limited scope on specific devices does increase the chances of success. Also, should these legal battles gain public attention, then the hit to the reputation of Apple could see customers boycotting a device that uses others technology without respecting intellectual property. However, this case can also backfire, should customers agree that Qualcomm’s royalties are not justified by the use of technology, or that the patents themselves are not justified.

Apple has won a legal battle before in order to ban certain Samsung phones that infringed on its patents, however, the devices in question were already old, and no longer in mainstream circulation within the U.S. anymore. Therefore, there will be some nuances that differ that court case ruling to this current one.

Featured Image via Flickr/Kārlis Dambrāns

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