ITC opens patent infringement investigation after Qualcomm files complaint against Apple

U.S. International Trade Commission ITC in Washington DC.

U.S. International Trade Commission ITC in Washington DC.

On Tuesday, August 8th, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) announced that it was opening up an investigation on claims that Cupertino, CA-based consumer electronics behemoth Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is infringing upon patented technologies, specifically baseband processor modems, in its mobile electronic devices. The investigation follows a Section 337 patent infringement complaint filed on July 7th with the ITC by San Diego, CA-based semiconductor developer Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) who is seeking an exclusion order to block Apple’s importation and sale of certain iPhone devices into the U.S. market.

The ITC’s announcement of the Section 337 investigation is simply the latest action in a legal battle between the two tech giants which has grown in intensity since the beginning of the year. This January, both Apple and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed lawsuits against Qualcomm over allegations that the semiconductor developer has engaged in monopolistic practices; Apple’s suit further alleged that Qualcomm was withholding $1 billion in payments to Apple in violation of an agreement between the firms.

Qualcomm fired its first major legal salvo at Apple this April, filing a suit in the Southern District of California alleging that Apple had engaged in tortious interference by using false evidence to encourage regulatory authorities in multiple jurisdictions to levy fines against Qualcomm. The complaint filed this April notes that Qualcomm has withheld the $1 billion in payments to Apple as the semiconductor firm has failed to uphold its end of the agreement by encouraging litigation against Qualcomm and pressuring its overseas contract manufacturers to refuse licensing with Qualcomm.

To answer Apple’s allegations that Qualcomm violates its fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) obligations regarding standard-essential patents (SEPs), Qualcomm’s ITC complaint asserts six non-SEPs covering mobile processing technologies which it accuses Apple of infringing. But by mid-July, Santa Clara, CA-based tech firm Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) had joined the fray, filing a Public Interest Statement with the ITC in which it alleged that Qualcomm was attempting to perpetuate an unlawful monopoly.

Now that Qualcomm’s Section 337 complaint has been instituted, the agency will, within the next 45 days, set a target date for completing the investigation. The ITC will assign the investigation to an administrative law judge (ALJ) within the agency who will make the determination on whether Apple has committed a Section 337 violation; that initial determination will then be reviewed by the full commission.


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