ITC staff says Qualcomm request for U.S. ban on certain iPhones is not in the public interest
Last December, Qualcomm filed a second complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) seeking a ban on U.S. imports of the Apple iPhone. The particular models that Qualcomm is looking to block from reaching the states are those that contain an Intel modem chip. In recent years, Apple has employed both Qualcomm and Intel components for cellular connectivity, and went to Intel exclusively with the just introduced 2018 models.
This morning, opening statements were heard by the ITC as the hearing to determine whether Qualcomm's request should be granted got under way. Qualcomm is asking the agency to ban imports of the Apple iPhone 7 and Apple iPhone 8 in the U.S. because these handsets infringe on three Qualcomm patents. If the ITC rules that any of the patents were used illegally by Apple, it can issue an exclusion order after taking into consideration whether such a ban would be in the public interest, would slow innovation in new technologies, and lessen competition in the industry.
The intellectual property that Qualcomm says that Apple infringed on includes U.S. patents 9,154,356 and 9,473,336. These are both related to carrier aggregation, which is when multiple carriers combine their channels to increase the capacity of their networks. The third patent involved, U.S. patent 8,063,674, deals with power saving features for integrated circuits.
Thus far, the hearing is not going the way Qualcomm drew it up on the blackboard. The ITC staff recommended today that the commission's three patents be considered valid by the ITC's decision makers, but also said that the patents should not be considered infringed upon. This could immediately prevent the commission from finding in Qualcomm's favor and authorizing an iPhone import ban, unless the final ruling goes against the staff recommendations and finds that Apple infringed on one or more of the aforementioned patents.
The ITC staff also found that an import ban placed against the iPhone would negatively impact competition in the modem chip market. Considering that for now, Apple's two choices to provide it with baseband chips for the iPhone are Qualcomm and Intel, banning Intel powered iPhones from the U.S. would harm competition and negatively impact consumers in the states. Thus, such a ban would not be considered to be in the public interest.
The hearing should run for a few more days with a final decision from the ITC due on May 22, 2019.