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Qualcomm Is Trying To Get iPhone Sales Banned In The U.S., Again.

06 Jul, 2017

The ongoing legal turmoil between Apple and Qualcomm is escalating every passing month, and both the parties are trying to hit the other where it could hurt the most.

Initially, angling for a ban on the import of iPhones and iPads, Qualcomm has changed tacks to now induce an outright ban on the sale of iPhones that have already been brought into the U.S.

Qualcomm filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) citing their view that these devices infringe on one or more Qualcomm patents that cover key technologies that drive some features and functionalities on Apple’s devices.

Since iPhones and iPads are all manufactured in China, Apple has to import its devices into the U.S. to sell them in its home country, and that’s exactly where Qualcomm wants to hit Apple. Its not entirely clear exactly which devices Qualcomm is seeking to get banned, but it’s likely that Qualcomm has the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models, and some recent iPads in it’s sights.

What is also most interesting is that Qualcomm has only requested devices running on AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks banned, even though these devices use chips from Intel. So you know, Apple devices on carriers such as Verizon use Qualcomm’s processors, so this move seems like a strike not just against Apple, but also against Qualcomm’s competition, Intel.

Qualcomm has been saying that Apple is in violation of six patents that pertain to extending a device’s battery life while allowing the device to retain certain functionalities.

  • US Patent No 8487658 (2013) – Connects high and low voltage circuits with efficient interfaces, thus allowing the device to be energy efficient.
  • US Patent No 9608675 (2013) – Allows the device to send high speed data while prolonging battery life.
  • US Patent No 8698558 (2014) – Allows the phone to optimize energy when transmitting data, whether it is video, voice or text.
  • US Patent No 8633936 (2014) – Allows the device to offer high performance and rich visuals in gaming.
  • US Patent No 8838949 (2014) – Allows “fleshless boot” which allows the device to connect to the internet after being powered on, thus reducing battery consumption.
  • US Patent No 9535490 (2017) – This enables the applications on the device to transfer data efficiently.

Interestingly, none of the patents are essential to a standard, which translates as Apple is not required to license these, as it is required to do for other patents the two companies are in dispute about.

The current complaint is being filed in both, the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (the same place where the previous complaints were logged).

Qualcomm’s General Counsel, Don Rosenberg said “Qualcomm’s inventions are at the heart of every iPhone and extend well beyond modem technologies or cellular standards”.
He added, “Apple continues to use Qualcomm’s technology while refusing to pay for it”.

It is expected that the complaint will start to be investigated in August, with a trial happening towards the end of the year, or early next year. If a ban is imposed (something that is being considered highly unlikely), it will not happen for the next 18 months.
We must also keep in mind that Qualcomm might not necessarily expect the ban to actually be put in place. It could very well just be another feint so as to attack Apple on multiple grounds, and thus gain leverage.

Truth be told, such escalation was expected in the fight between the two partners-turned-adversaries, that commenced at the beginning of the year.
While it started with the Federal Trade Commission suing Qualcomm for anti-competitive trade practices, it soon took on more ominous form when when Apple filed its own suit for the same.

Since then, the fight has only become clumsier, with Apple now withholding all payments due to Qualcomm, and the latter trying to get the iPhones banned from sale as a response.

Apple claims that the chipmaker is charging “disproportionately high” fees for the use of its patents, and abusing its position as the market leader in smartphone modems.

Qualcomm is not just a chipmaker, it is also one of the primary suppliers of LTE modems, along with a lot of what goes into your phones. They hold a considerable chunk of standard essential patents, which means that if a company wants to make and sell phones, it has to pretty much cut a deal with Qualcomm, at least for the use of the standard essential patents.

As I said before, the ongoing dispute between the two giants is likely to result in a new trend for the industry – which could culminate with the licensees having additional stake over the patented tech, while the patent holders will have lesser “pull” over how much they charge and thus how the industry functions.

Sounds good to me, now that I’ve learnt how much Qualcomm charges, unilaterally at that, and simple correlation yields that you and I ultimately end up paying for those self-servingly over-valued patents!