Qualcomm this week escalated its growing patent dispute with Apple by filing a complaint with federal regulators to ban imports of iPhones that the mobile chip maker claims infringe on six patents that focus on such key areas as battery life and performance. In addition, Qualcomm officials are suing Apple in federal court for allegedly infringing on those six patents.
The complaint to the International Trade Commission (ITC) and lawsuit with U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California are part of an ongoing legal battle behind the two companies that focuses on patents and licensing and highlights the tangled relationships in the mobile computing space. Apple in January filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm over its patent licensing practices, claiming that the chip maker is using its “monopoly” position in baseband chips—a key component in mobile phones and other devices—to charge costly fees and royalties and practicing “exclusionary tactics” in the market.
Apple last month said in a legal filing that there is growing evidence that Qualcomm is using an “illegal business model” to force device makers to pay high royalties for every device they sell.
Qualcomm officials have denied the allegations and in their new claims accused Apple of using the chip maker’s technology while refusing to pay for it.
“Qualcomm’s inventions are at the heart of every iPhone and extend well beyond modem technologies or cellular standards,” Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, said in a statement. “The patents we are asserting represent six important technologies, out of a portfolio of thousands, and each is vital to iPhone functions.”
The company essentially is asking the ITC to investigate iPhones made overseas and ban the importation of those devices that violate any one of the six patents listed and those that use cellular baseband processors other than those supplied by Qualcomm partners. Officials also want Apple barred from marketing and selling iPhones and other devices that already have been imported.
According to Qualcomm, each of the six patents drive high performance and longer battery life in smartphones, and do so in different ways for different features in the smartphone, such as ensuring the antenna is using just the right amount of power to transmit and enabling the device to quickly connect to the internet after turning it on through the use of flashless boot technology.
In a statement to CNBC, Apple officials said the company believes “deeply in the value of intellectual property but we shouldn't have to pay them for technology breakthroughs they have nothing to do with. We've always been willing to pay a fair rate for standard technology used in our products and since they've refused to negotiate reasonable terms we're asking the courts for help.”
Qualcomm’s business model comprises two entities—one that sells chips and another that licenses patents. The company has come under fire in recent years for its license patenting. In 2014, the company settled a long-running antitrust investigation by Chinese regulators for $975 million, and has also drawn the attention of regulatory bodies in other countries, including South Korea and the United States. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in January filed suit against Qualcomm for an alleged antitrust issue connected to its licensing business. In addition, Qualcomm has drawn the ire of competitors and others in the tech industry, with Apple being the highest profile.
Qualcomm’s complaints come at a time when Apple is preparing to launch its newest iPhones later this year, and as Qualcomm and Intel compete to get their modem technologies into the devices.
Qualcomm officials said they expect the ITC to start its investigation in August, with a trial starting next year.