The U.S. International Trade Commission has agreed to step in and investigate Qualcomm’s claims that Apple is violating its patents. It’s the latest escalation in the fierce legal battle between the Cupertino tech giant and the San Diego-based chipmaker.
The ITC confirmed the move in a press release Tuesday, and although no specific timeline was given, the agency said that the investigation should be completed within 45 days of beginning. In short, Qualcomm is seeking a total ban of iPhones entering the country due to various patent violations. The chipmaker originally filed the complaint with the Commission in July, though it noted that it could take up to 18 months for the agency to reach a final decision.
The legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm centers on the latter company’s modem technology. Apple claims that it pays too high of a royalty fee for Qualcomm’s tech — a fee that it claims is a “tax on its innovation.” A particular point of contention is Qualcomm’s policy of charging a percentage of a device’s total cost, rather than a percentage of the patented technology used. Qualcomm, for its part, maintains that its policies are fair since the company owns intellectual property that’s foundational to modern mobile networks.
But Qualcomm’s business practices at large have also come under scrutiny. In January, the Federal Trade Commission sued Qualcomm for alleged anticompetitive and monopolistic tactics — including its policy of selling modems only when customers sign patent agreements and pay patent fees, and its refusal to grant patent licenses to competing companies. In June, a U.S. District Judge denied Qualcomm’s motion to have the FTC lawsuit thrown out.
Apple filed its own $1 billion lawsuit against the San Diego chipmaker earlier this year, and the two companies have been embroiled in a fierce legal spat since. In April, Cupertino announced that it would cease paying royalties to Qualcomm altogether. In response, the chip manufacturer filed suits against several of Apple’s supply chain partners — including Foxconn and Wistron. And as recently as July, Qualcomm has filed new suits against Apple for allegedly violating several of its patents.