Apple And Qualcomm Spar In Court Over iPhone Import Ban, US 5G Leadership At Risk

Apple has been fighting Qualcomm over patents that the iPhone allegedly violates. Qualcomm filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) previously, and a panel has recommended that a trade judge find that Apple infringed on at least one of these patents. If the judge does rule that Apple infringed on the patent, there is a chance that the import of some iPhone devices into the United States could be blocked.

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More than likely any ruling that Apple violated patents would simply mean a licensing fee paid by Apple to keep a steady flow of iPhone coming into the country. The iPhone is too important to Apple for it to not license the patent. The original complaint by Qualcomm was filed almost a year ago and affects iPhones using Intel's cellular modem chips. The patent that the ITC believes Apple infringed is a Qualcomm patent relating to battery saving technology.

"Qualcomm is selectively asserting its patents to target only Apple products containing Intel chipsets — even though its patent infringement allegations would apply equally to Apple products containing Qualcomm chipsets — in an attempt to use the ITC as another mechanism for perpetuating its ill-gotten monopoly position," Apple wrote.

There's also an even bigger risk if Intel is sidelined because of the ongoing patent dispute. It would leave Qualcomm as only player in the U.S. cellular modem market, which could have detrimental effects in the marketplace. “If Intel is taken out of the 5G race, this would slow the pace of U.S. innovation,” said staff lawyer Lisa Murray. “Apple and Intel would have continued incentive to invest in 5G.”

That could give China a leg-up in advancing its own 5G aspirations, and perhaps put the country ahead of the United States in the market in the long term. “If Intel is barred from selling to Apple in the U.S. market, there is a good chance they’ll exit," added Apple lawyer William Lee. “It is in the best interest of consumers, it’s in the best interest of the economy, it’s in the best interest of the country and our national security to have two robust players."

In related news, Intel is working on a new cellular modem that could entirely replace Qualcomm modems across the board in future iPhones. With all the legal wrangling between Apple and Qualcomm, being able to walk away completely would definitely be desirable.

Production of the modem was confirmed by Intel VP of tech, systems architecture, and client group Asha Keddy last week. Other sources have also confirmed that the Intel XMM 7560 modems are in mass production. Intel is hailing the modem as a milestone because it can operate on multiple carriers using CDMA tech including Verizon and Sprint and GSM tech used by other carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile. That means Apple won’t have to make multiple versions of the iPhone for different carriers.

Reports indicate that for the 2018 iPhone devices Qualcomm will supply 30% of the modems needed with Intel providing 70% of the modems required by Apple. Apple could end its need for Qualcomm products by 2019.