Qualcomm celebrates ITC investigation of Apple

The American international trade watchdog is officially investigating Apple over Qualcomm’s claims the iChief has infringed its patents with its iPhones and iPads.

Companies suing each other in the tech space is nothing new, but this one could get quite feisty. What usually happens with some sort of patent dispute is one companies pays the other to make the headache go away, but considering how much the Apple/Qualcomm relationship has deteriorated, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Qualcomm ignore any settlements to allow an import ban on the products.

That is of course if Qualcomm wins, which is by no-means a given. The fact the US International Trade Commission is bothering with an investigation shows there might be some substance to the claims, but the Apple legal team are used to being sued. These are battle hardened lawyers, who might well have the law on their side. It’s an incredibly complicated aspect of the law, where interpretation is common. Who knows which direction this one could head.

“The US International Trade Commission (USITC) has voted to institute an investigation of certain mobile electronic devices and radio frequency and processing components thereof,” the agency has said in a statement. “The products at issue in the investigation are mobile electronic devices, such as the iPhone 7, and specific components for such devices, such as baseband processor modems.”

Obviously, the Qualcomm team is a bit gleeful over the decision

“Qualcomm is pleased with the ITC’s decision to investigate Apple’s unfair trade practices and the unauthorized importation of products using Qualcomm’s patents,” said Don Rosenberg, General Counsel of Qualcomm. “We look forward to the ITC’s expeditious investigation of Apple’s ongoing infringement of our intellectual property and the accelerated relief that the Commission can provide.”

For Qualcomm, this will be a welcome turn in fortunes, putting the firm back on the offensive in its prolonged legal battle with the iLeader. For the last few months, Qualcomm has been on the receiving end in the court room, not only from Apple, but a host of other governments, agencies and competitors.

Whether it is the European Commission or the Korean Government or the Federal Trade Commission investigating anti-trust activities, or Chinese manufacturers suing over a dodgy relationship, or competitors filing amicus briefs supporting other cases, Qualcomm has been receiving a lot of flak. This is the first time in a while Qualcomm hasn’t been pinned up against the wall.

This case is balanced on the use of Intel modems in the latest devices. Qualcomm chips have been used in Apple devices, but more recently Intel’s products have been favoured. Qualcomm believes this does in fact stomp all over its patents, hence the request to ban any imports into the US, the iBoss’ most important market.

In the financial industry there is a phrase which might apply quite well here; ‘hope is a cr*ppy hedge’. If the option is there, Apple should probably be upping shipments into the US for the next 45 days. Even if its legal team is confident in winning the case, there is a possibility it will lose and have imports blocked. That would be utterly disastrous for a company which is about to start building hype around the launch of a flagship device in the Autumn.

This is of course just the latest in a string of slurs which have been cast at each other. The dispute could have been settled ages ago with the signing of a new patent agreement, but the constant jostling to gain the upper hand has seen the relationship deteriorate. We suspect the point of no-return was passed quite a while ago, so don’t expect this case to have a friendly outcome.

Probably one of the safest bets to make here is that the Qualcomm and Apple relationship is dead and buried.

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