Qualcomm, others await international trade decision

Commission expected to rule Thursday whether cell phones using a particular Qualcomm technology can be imported to the U.S.
Written by Marguerite Reardon, Contributor
The U.S. International Trade Commission is expected to decide late Thursday whether to ban imports of cell phones that include certain technology from Qualcomm.

Earlier this year, Broadcom, one of Qualcomm's biggest rivals, asked the ITC to ban the import of Qualcomm's semiconductors because the company alleges the chips infringe Broadcom's patents. Broadcom also asked the ITC to prohibit the import of any cell phone that uses that Qualcomm technology.

The specific technology under dispute would include any devices that use Qualcomm chips to transmit data, music or video over a 3G network.

A year ago, an ITC administrative judge found that Qualcomm had violated Broadcom's patent, which covers technology that helps conserve battery power when a cell phone is not able to get a network signal. At the time of the decision, the judge recommended that the chips be banned from entering the U.S. He did not specifically advocate that cell phones using those chips should be banned. But because most cell phones are manufactured overseas, the majority of cellular chipsets entering the U.S. are already installed in mobile devices.

Wireless operators Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel would be greatly affected by any decision that would prevent phones using Qualcomm's chips from entering the U.S. These carriers use a 3G standard called EV-DO, or Evolution Data Optimized, and Qualcomm is the only manufacturer of chips for handsets that operate on this network.

Verizon and Sprint have spent billions of dollars building these new 3G wireless networks, and any delay in selling handsets that work over this network could cost them a great deal of money. Handset makers Motorola and Samsung, which manufacture phones for EV-DO networks, could also suffer from a ban.

Qualcomm and Broadcom have been battling each other in court over patent infringement for several years. Just last week, a federal jury in Santa Ana, Calif., found Qualcomm guilty of infringing three of Broadcom's patents and awarded the company $19.64 million in damages. Broadcom is also seeking a permanent injunction that would prevent Qualcomm from using any of the infringed technology. Qualcomm also has filed patent infringement lawsuits against Broadcom.

The ITC is expected to issue its ruling Thursday after the stock market closes. But the group has postponed the decision several times already, most recently on May 25.

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