Qualcomm Suit Seeks to Stop iPhone and iPad Sales in the U.S., is Really Just a Bunch of Posturing
In its continued fight with Apple, Qualcomm is now asking the U.S. government to stop sales of new iPhones and iPads in the U.S. and to restrict the company from shipping newly produced iPhones and iPads into the country. Qualcomm’s claim, in a suit filed in a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, is that Apple is infringing on six patents that relate to extending the battery life of the devices.
According to Qualcomm, the technology that Apple is using in its flagship smartphone and tablets violates patents that are not considered essential to a standard, meaning Qualcomm isn’t required to license them out—which is the case with two other patents the companies are fighting over (in the same court, mind you).
“Qualcomm’s inventions are at the heart of every iPhone and extend well beyond modem technologies or cellular standards,” Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm, said in a statement. “The patents we are asserting represent six important technologies, out of a portfolio of thousands, and each is vital to iPhone functions. Apple continues to use Qualcomm’s technology while refusing to pay for it. These lawsuits seek to stop Apple’s infringement of six of our patented technologies.”
This latest escalation in the fight between Apple and Qualcomm continues what’s been a string of legal challenges brought on since the beginning of the year. In January, the Federal Trade Commission accused Qualcomm of essentially monopolizing the market around a key semiconductor used in smartphones. Apple followed that up days later by suing the company for similar claims, and has since expanded that suit to other countries. Qualcomm has also fired back at Apple and its suppliers with a number of accusations, including making its smartphone chips look bad and for not ponying up its promised royalty payments.
On the surface, the headline reads as a huge potential problem for Apple with the launch of its next iPhone just a few months away. But really, it’s just a bunch of posturing by a company that’s trying to save face—and save its business. Personally, it feels like the schoolyard bully who got caught by the teacher is now turning around and trying to point fingers at the kid standing next to him. It feels desperate.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Qualcomm’s suit and request to stop imports and sales of the iPhone and iPad in the U.S. isn’t likely to go into effect anytime soon—if at all. The trade commission that will review the suit typically takes around 16 months to come to a conclusion. Even if that commission were to rule against Apple, the company would likely appeal, which would extend that timeline out even further.
The potential future ruling aside, the move by Qualcomm comes as no surprise. The chip manufacturer has been put in a position—by the U.S. government and Apple—where it has to defend what’s become its primary business. Qualcomm’s two main businesses involve selling smartphone chips and licensing patents it owns on key cellular technology used in nearly all smartphones. According to WSJ, that patent-licensing business represents about 80 percent of its pre-tax profit. And Apple alone represents around 30 percent of Qualcomm’s per-share earnings.
Basically, they’re fighting for their business.
For its part, Apple has been slowly distancing itself from Qualcomm. Some of its new iPhone 7 phones are built with baseband chips developed by Intel. And it’s expected that the balance could tip in Intel’s favor when the new iPhone is announced in September.
In a statement made to the WSJ, an Apple spokesperson said that the company “stands by its previous statement that Qualcomm is seeking payments on innovations that it didn’t make.”