Patent disputes may hurt 3G

US chip shop Qualcomm suffered a major blow on Tuesday, when a US federal jury awarded rival Broadcom $19.64m in damages and found Qualcomm guilty of infringing three Broadcom patents.

The jury ruled that the three patents, related to cellular baseband chips and software, are valid and found Qualcomm’s infringement to be willful. As a result, the court may increase damages up to three times the amount awarded by the jury.

The ruling comes ahead of a June 7 decision by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) on whether to impose a ban on handsets featuring Qualcomm chipsets.

Although it is doubtful that the ITC will take such drastic measures, behind the scenes, Qualcomm’s customers, some of the world’s biggest handset manufacturers, are likely to be pressuring the company to reach a settlement.

A ban on Qualcomm chips could seriously hamstring both WCDMA and EV-DO 3G technologies in the US and maybe even abroad – a danger made all the more real by the fact that the Big Q is fighting fires on more than one front.

Another ongoing patent dispute with Nokia, the world’s biggest handset vendor, is potentially leaving the door open for rival technologies such as WiMAX, as all the major cellular players are otherwise engaged.

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