Qualcomm Again Seeks a U.S. iPhone Sales Ban

Posted on February 20, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple with 9 Comments

Qualcomm is at it again: It is again asking regulators to halt the sale of some iPhones in the United States.

Qualcomm previously asked the International Trade Commission to ban the sale of certain iPhones in the United States because the devices use Intel modems that infringe on its patents. That effort failed, but with successful bans in both China and Germany behind it, Qualcomm is trying again.

Apple recently told an ITC judge that it had found a software-based workaround for Qualcomm’s patent-protection technologies, and it asked for—and received—a six-month reprieve during which it could make the necessary changes. So, Qualcomm is using Apple’s previous arguments against it, noting that Apple had claimed there was no way to workaround the Qualcomm technologies, only to magically find a fix when the ITC had ruled against Apple.

“[The judge] recommended against a remedy on the assumption that the [Qualcomm] patent would preclude Apple from using Intel as a supplier for many years and that no redesign was feasible,” the Qualcomm filing reads. “Apple now admits—more than seven months after the hearing—that the alleged harm is entirely avoidable.”

Basically, Qualcomm is asking that the previous decision giving Apple six months to deploy a fix be rescinded, resulting in an immediate ban on sales of Apple iPhone models based on infringing Intel modem hardware. That includes all modern iPhones, like the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.

If Apple has found a software-based workaround, the ban—if enacted—could be short-lived, assuming it can prove that it is no longer infringing on Qualcomm’s patents. But the ITC had also previously indicated that it was wary of essentially handing the firm a “monopoly” on smartphone sales in the U.S., whatever that means. And that preserving competition, in this case in smartphone modems, was in the public interest.

Given that logic, I guess it’s OK to break the law in the name of competition now. That thinking would, of course, also absolve Chinese-based smartphone giants like Huawei and Xiaomi, which routinely copy products made by Apple, Samsung, and other companies.

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