In the weeks since Qualcomm Inc. filed two patent infringement complaints against Apple Inc., several voices have weighed in with support for Apple, including Intel Corp. and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, an advocacy group that represents the likes of Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Two attorneys from organizations that have filed comments said that the decision to get involved was not just about this particular complaint, but was more driven by the desire to voice concerns on the broader implications of Qualcomm's behavior.
Qualcomm filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission on July 7, alleging that Apple has engaged in unlawful importation and sale of iPhones that infringe on six of its patents. The San Diego-based chipmaker, which filed a parallel action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, is requesting that the federal agency ultimately bar importation and halt further sales of infringing products in the United States that do not incorporate a Qualcomm brand baseband processor modem.
In response to a request for comment Tuesday, an Apple representative pointed Corporate Counsel to a June 20 statement which said that "Qualcomm's illegal business practices are harming Apple and the entire industry."
The Cupertino-based company, which brought a separate suit against Qualcomm on Jan. 20, filed a response with the USITC on July 20 calling Qualcomm's request for an exclusion order "unprecedented." Apple added that the "selective exclusion order Qualcomm requests would grant it a monopoly by fiat, and effectively strip agencies and courts of authority to challenge Qualcomm's abuses."
Qualcomm declined to comment beyond its July 24 response to the comments from companies and organizations in support of Apple, in which Qualcomm claimed that the submissions appear to be "a coordinated effort aimed at misdirecting the Commission, all but ignoring the statutory public interest factors, as well as the purpose of the patent laws … [which is] to protect against infringement and thereby support innovation."
"This case was not filed to stifle competition—it was filed to halt Apple's unauthorized use of Qualcomm's technology and to prevent infringement of Qualcomm's patents through unfairly traded imports," Qualcomm added in the filing.
This is about much more than just the six patents asserted, said Joshua Landau, patent counsel at the CCIA, which filed a July 20 response to the commission's request for comments. "We choose to weigh in because Qualcomm's anti-competitive licensing practices have been an ongoing issue in the industry," he told Corporate Counsel in an interview. "They have an historical pattern of using their patents to enforce market dominance … the public interest is in fair and open competition and Qualcomm's behavior and their anti-competitive practices go against that."
He added that Qualcomm's tactics are "harmful to consumers, competitors and ultimately to innovation."
In addition to the suit from Apple, Qualcomm is also facing other legal challenges, such as multidistrict antitrust litigation in California and a suit by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly using anti-competitive tactics to maintain its monopoly in the supply of a key device used in cellphones. It's important for the USITC to consider the July 7 complaint in light of other ongoing issues, said Brian Scarpelli, senior policy counsel at ACT | The App Association, which represents more than 5,000 app companies and information technology firms. The group waded into the discussion with a July 21 filing.
"By framing this complaint the way that it has been framed, it would appear this is happening in a vacuum," Scarpelli said in an interview. "But this is a broader picture. Qualcomm's licensing practices have a lot to do with that broader picture, so we just want to be sure that the USITC understands that."
Scarpelli added that granting the exclusion order sought by Qualcomm would have a "detrimental effect on the public."
Also in the mix is Intel. The microprocessor giant, which provides baseband processor modems for Apple products, claimed in its July 20 filing that "Qualcomm did not initiate this investigation to stop the alleged infringement of its patent rights; rather, its complaint is a transparent effort to stave off lawful competition" from Intel.
Intel, which pointed to the filing in response to a request for comment, went on to argue that this "twisted use of the Commission's process is just the latest in a long line of anticompetitive strategies that Qualcomm has used to quash incipient and potential competitors and avoid competition on the merits," and that granting the exclusion order "would cause significant harm to the public interest[.]"