Qualcomm seeks a US import ban on some iPhones and iPads

Qualcomm's legal battles with Apple rage on. The chipmaker requested that the U.S. International Trade Commision (ITC) halt imports of certain iPhones and iPads into the United States, alleging that these devices violate some of Qualcomm's patents. Additionally, Qualcomm filed a separate lawsuit that seeks monetary damages for patent infringement.

The devices that Qualcomm wants barred are those with cellular baseband processors supplied by anyone but the company and its affiliates. Presumably, Qualcomm is referring to chips made by Intel. However, the exact complaint isn't that Intel's chips violate Qualcomm's patents directly. Rather, the argument is that Apple's implementation of those chips violates six of Qualcomm's patents concerning smartphone power efficiency.

Despite Qualcomm and Apple's longstanding business ties, 2017 hasn't been a good year for their relationship. In January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a suit against Qualcomm alleging that it used monopolistic tactics to maintain its position in smartphone chip manufacturing. The FTC also asserted that Qualcomm's supply and licensing terms for its chips were onerous and designed to weaken the competition. Apple quickly followed up by withholding payments to Qualcomm and filing a $1 billion lawsuit over those allegedly anticompetitive tactics.

Apple upped the ante last month by adding further complaints to the forementioned suit. The complaints are based on a Supreme Court decision from May stating that companies do not maintain their patent rights over an item after it is sold. Apple alleges that Qualcomm is "double-dipping" by not only selling chips, but by also licensing the technology in them, leading to a situation where Qualcomm demands a cut of every phone sold even if the handset in question doesn't contain any of its silicon. For its part, Qualcomm maintains that Apple provoked the investigations.

As usual with lawsuits between major tech corporations, an end to these legal proceedings isn't expected any time soon. Reuters estimates that ITC cases take a little over a year to conclude. In the meantime, Qualcomm has to fight this battle on multiple fronts, as it's being investigated not only in the United States but in Europe and Taiwan as well—and that's on top of a record fine imposed by South Korea on the chipmaker last December.

Comments closed
    • ronch
    • 2 years ago

    I don’t know why I dislike Qualcomm. I mean their products are great but I guess this is similar to how I dislike Intel and root for little ol’ AMD. I should root for Mediatek. Their chips are actually not too shabby either and phones and tablets that use Mediatek are well priced.

    • ludi
    • 2 years ago

    A quick note of thanks to TR for presenting these things in a consistently neutral way, in spite of where some commenters inevitably try to take it (Patent system broken! Patents bad! Subscribe to my newsletter! I’ll downvote anyone who speaks heresy! etc.)

    I have plenty of gripes against software and design patents in particular, but only the choir wants to hear that sermon. Having seen both sides of the issue due to a previous work life, there are real issues of fact that will play out in these cases and some of us actually do want to know more about them.

    • Vaughn
    • 2 years ago

    This is what this is all about.

    US Patent No. 8,487,658: Maximizes smartphone performance while extending battery life by connecting high voltage circuits and low voltage circuits with efficient interfaces. (Issued 2013)
    US Patent No. 8,633,936: Enables high performance and rich visual graphics for games while increasing a mobile device’s battery life. (Issued 2014)
    US Patent No. 8,698,558: Extends battery life by building intelligence into the system so the antenna is always using just the right amount of battery power to transmit, whether it be video, text, or voice. (Issued 2014
    US Patent No. 8,838,949: Enables “flashless boot” which allows your smartphone to connect to the internet quickly after being powered on, while extending battery life and reducing memory size. (Issued 2014)
    US Patent No. 9,535,490: Enables the applications on your smartphone to get their data to and from the internet quickly and efficiently by acting as a smart “traffic cop” between the apps processor and the modem. (Issued 2017)
    US Patent No. 9,608,675: Enables a mobile device to send high speed data such as live video from your phone by combining many lanes of traffic into a data super-highway while prolonging battery life. (Issued 2017)

    Those patents are ridiculous shame on them for issuing these. The whole broken system needs to be throw out and replaced with something better and alittle more modern.

      • Pancake
      • 2 years ago

      Wow. An information super-highway right on your phone!

      • Zizy
      • 2 years ago

      Ehm, you need to look at the content of the patent, not its title. Those are like scientific article titles – bombastic and vague. Say the first patent – if this is literally the whole content, obviously patent is completely retarded and shouldn’t have ever been granted. But, based on similar scientific articles, I expect these efficient interfaces are the key.
      QC innovated by making interfaces that are very efficient, unlike previous inefficient ones. What exactly did QC do to make their interfaces so efficient? I have no idea and I don’t care. They could have patented something everyone has been doing for a while. It might be obvious improvement over the old stuff. It might be a real innovation. We can’t know based on just the title.

      I guess I could find similarly titled EU* patents as well. And unlike US patents that are presumed to be retarded unless proven otherwise, with EU ones I would first assume it is a valid innovation.
      * There is no such thing as EU patent yet. You still have say a German, Italian etc patent in the end.

    • deruberhanyok
    • 2 years ago

    I would like to see this end with Qualcomm’s patents invalidated.

    • strangerguy
    • 2 years ago

    QC wanting a baseband lawsuit against Apple this close to a next gen iPhone launch? They must have known and not like what Apple has done to baseband socket on the next iPhone. Anything is possible with Apple when they are already beating the nearest SoC competition by well over 2x in IPC.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    How dare Qualcomm patent any of their IP. What a bunch of jerks!

    • cynan
    • 2 years ago

    [quote<]The complaints are based on a Supreme Court decision from May stating that companies do not maintain their patent rights over an item after it is sold[/quote<] Apple is selling refurbished Qualcomm chips in their mobile devices? If this and the "double-dipping" argument are the best Apple's lawyers can come up with, this case doesn't appear to be shaping up so well for them.

      • soccergenius
      • 2 years ago

      I can’t tell whether you’re being facetious or not. In case you’re not, no, Apple is [b<]not[/b<] using refurbished Qualcomm chips; Apple is not a direct licensee of Qualcomm. Qualcomm sells chips to Apple's suppliers, who then "bill" Apple for the royalties, in this case for both Qualcomm's chips [i<]and[/i<] patent licenses, whether or not the device uses Qualcomm or Intel modems. Apple's biggest beef is that the royalties (not sure if on the chips or the patents, or both) are based on a percentage of the device. So as device average selling prices rise, so do the royalties paid. Apple argues that it's Apple's innovations (features) that are adding the increasing value to their devices, not the Qualcomm chips that [i<]some[/i<] iDevices have in them. If a $400 Android has the same modem chip as a $750 iPhone, why should Qualcomm get more money for the iPhone, especially if it has a non-Qualcomm modem?

        • cynan
        • 2 years ago

        That second part about the royalties being proportional to device retail price sounds like a compelling beef for Apple, but that’s not really touched upon in the article.

        My facetious point was that the Supreme court case in question involved Lexmark complaining about people refurbishing and reselling their printer cartridges. I obviously didn’t look at the details of the case at all, but it seemed that the ruling was based on products that were already for sale – and purchased – on the retail market. Apple is not sourcing its Qualcomm parts post retail – which seemed to me to be an important distinction.

        As for the double dipping, I don’t see why, according to current patent law, why Qualcomm can’t charge royalties if the patent is based on implementation/design, regardless of whether there is a Qualcomm chip involved.

        What is double dipping, as Chuckula pointed out in his post, is charging for said licensing royalties and an actual Qualcomm hardware implementation of the design at the same time. But this doesn’t appear to necessarily be the case?

          • soccergenius
          • 2 years ago

          In the Lexmark case, the SCOTUS ruled that when you sell an item, you forfeit any patent rights on that item. Lexmark can’t constrain cartridge resellers on the basis that those cartridges are patented by Lexmark because Lexmark has already enjoyed the initial sale. Apple is arguing that that legal logic should also apply with Qualcomm and prevent Qualcomm from applying royalties on top of their modem chips.

          The complaint that [i<]this[/i<] article is about is a separate issue legally, but related to the ongoing Qualcomm v Apple dispute.

    • chuckula
    • 2 years ago

    [quote<]Apple alleges that Qualcomm is "double-dipping" by not only selling chips, but by also licensing the technology in them, leading to a situation where Qualcomm demands a cut of every phone sold even if the handset in question doesn't contain any of its silicon.[/quote<] Actually the "double dip" would be when Qualcomm makes you pay for the chip to use [i<]and[/i<] requires you to pay separate license fees even when you paid for their chip. Requiring a royalty based on Qualcomm patents to let Apple or whoever use other companies' products may be controversial but is also more standard practice.

      • tay
      • 2 years ago

      Yea this is my understanding as well. Was the issue in Korea that was ruled in Samsungs favor similar? Or was that related to charging different prices for the same FRAND licencees?

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