Qualcomm Inc. has worked for several years to succeed in proving patent infringement and securing an import ban on the Apple iPhone. In separate cases, one attempt succeeded and one failed.
On March 26th, 2019, the US International Trade Commission found Qualcomm’s patent for a battery-saving feature invalid. However, earlier the same day, a different judge ruled that Apple had infringed on another Qualcomm patent; this judge recommended that certain older iPhone models be banned. A final decision is expected on that case this July.
There have been some 80 cases filed worldwide between these two companies. Qualcomm’s technology is an integral part of modern communication products. The company is earning money from all of its chips in mobile devices as well as collecting fees for the use of its inventions in chips made by other companies.
Qualcomm argues that it is being shorted out of billions of dollars in royalties on the iPhone as the two tech companies debate the value of Qualcomm’s patents. At the crux of the argument is Qualcomm’s claim that the Intel chips Apple uses are inferior and that Apple has been incorporating unlicensed Qualcomm inventions into the Intel chips to upgrade their quality.
In the second case, Qualcomm believes that the iPhones which contain Intel Corp. chips infringed two patents concerning methods for improving the quality and speed of data downloads as well as one for power-saving features. Qualcomm is requesting an order to ban imports of the iPhone and iPhone 7 Plus. Even if the ban is limited to these models, the impact could run to billions of dollars per year. It is anticipated that Apple would probably discontinue these models in the next two years.
Regarding this case, ITC Judge MaryJoan McNamara said she would be recommending a band pertaining to a broad wider range of iPhones, including the iPhone 7, iPhone 8, and iPhone X; only those with Intel chips are affected. iPhones with Qualcomm chips are not part of this legal battle. Until this matter is settled, Apple has directed its contractors to stop paying Qualcomm and is purchasing all its modem chips for new models from Intel.
The Federal Trade Commission has leveled an accusation at Qualcomm for using its patents on industry standards to weaken competition and gain market share and high licensing fees. To date, Qualcomm has won sales bans on iPhones in China and Germany, although the ban in China has not been enforced and Apple is working on measures to resume sales in Germany.