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Qualcomm threatens to block iPhone sales

Qualcomm is asking U.S. trade authorities to potentially ban the sale of iPhones that do not use Qualcomm’s baseband processors. The chipmaker is calling for an import ban, as well as an order that would prevent the sale of phones that are already in the country. Such a ban could keep Apple from selling the iPhone 7 models that work on the AT&T and T-Mobile US networks, since those phones use Intel baseband processors.

For Qualcomm, keeping iPhone 7 devices out of the U.S. is not the end game. The chipmaker is trying to force Apple to admit that all iPhones, even those that don’t include Qualcomm modems, use important Qualcomm technologies that Apple should be paying for. According to Qualcomm, Apple is using its key smartphone technologies without remitting licensing fees.

Qualcomm says Apple started the legal fight, and that the iPhone maker continues to use Qualcomm’s technology without paying. The company listed six patents that it said Apple should be paying for each time it sells an iPhone.

The first patent highlighted by Qualcomm extends battery life by building intelligence into the system so the antenna is always using just the right amount of battery power to transmit. The second improves graphics for mobile games without draining a smartphone battery. The third is a power tracker for multiple transmit signals, and the fourth enables “flashless boot,” which means a phone can come to life quickly and connect to the internet when you turn it on. The fifth patent deals with interactions between the applications processor and the modem, two chipsets that were both made by Qualcomm in most iPhones until recently. The final disputed Qualcomm patent deals with efficient connections for high and low voltage circuits.

The six features are all standard on most high-end smartphones, but they are not considered “standards essential” technologies. Standards essential technologies are those that must be used in order for a device to meet industry standards and be compatible with other devices. Chipmakers are required to license standards essential technologies on “fair and reasonable” terms.

“While the technologies covered by the patents are central to the performance of the iPhone, the six asserted patents are not essential to practice any standards in a mobile device or subject to a commitment to offer to license such patents,” Qualcomm said in a statement.

All iPhones probably use one or more of these patented technologies, but Qualcomm is only contesting the phones that do not use its baseband processors. The baseband processor is the modem chip that converts RF signals into digital information that can be understood by the applications processor. Qualcomm wants the United States International Trade Commission to launch an investigation with the goal of ultimately issuing a limited exclusion order to prevent the import and sale of iPhones that don’t use Qualcomm baseband processors.

“The Company is seeking the LEO against iPhones that use cellular baseband processors other than those supplied by Qualcomm’s affiliates,” the company said. “Additionally, Qualcomm is seeking a Cease and Desist Order barring further sales of infringing Apple products that have already been imported and to halt the marketing, advertising, demonstration, warehousing of inventory for distribution and use of those imported products in the United States.”

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Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports ( At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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