The two companies have cases pending before separate federal courts in California, and Qualcomm also faces a complaint from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
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In July this year, semiconductor company Qualcomm filed a complaint with the ITC, accusing Apple of infringing six of its patents in the iPhone model and requesting a ban on imports.
A lobbying group representing major technology companies including Google, Amazon and Samsung, had urged U.S. authorities to reject Qualcomm's request for a ban on iPhone imports.
Earlier this year, Apple sued Qualcomm for $1 billion, alleging that the company was collecting royalties on patents that it had "nothing to do with". Within 45 days after institution of the investigation, the USITC will set a target date for completing the investigation.
At the heart of the matter is Apple's use of cellular baseband processors made by Intel, with Qualcomm arguing that iPhones Intel's 4G wireless chips are effectively using six Qualcomm patents "unfairly" and "unlawfully".
Don Rosenberg, General Counsel of Qualcomm, welcomed the decision, saying the firm "look (ed) 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". The FTC accused Qualcomm of illegally maintaining a monopoly.
Apple usually uses Qualcomm modem chips in its handhelds, but has started using Intel components in some of its latest products.
Holders of standards-essential patents such as those at issue in Qualcomm's complaint have a responsibility to offer them at fair, reasonable, and non discriminatory terms, Apple chief executive Tim Cook pointed out during a recent earnings call with analysts. If Qualcomm were truly only concerned about patent infringement, it would seek an import ban on all iPhones, including those with Qualcomm modems. Intel then filed a formal statement with the ITC about Qualcomm attempting to force them out of business with Apple.