In a fairly dramatic escalation of the two tech companies’ long-running patent battle, Qualcomm is now asking the International Trade Commission (ITC) to block the import of Apple phones that have Intel wireless modems inside. Qualcomm was for a long time the sole provider of the cellular modems inside iPhones, but Intel has in recent years scratched itself back into the picture and is now providing the modems in some iPhones.
Qualcomm filed papers with the ITC today, claiming that the iPhone infringes on six relatively recent Qualcomm patents dealing with things like fast boot-up, web access, and battery-life extension. Only one of the patents seems to relate directly to wireless modems. This may be Qualcomm’s way of demonstrating how essential the company’s technologies are to the iPhone, and using that as leverage to attack the specific competitive threat from Intel. There’s a fascinating backstory (here) about how Intel got a chip back inside the processor, and why.
Because Apple and Qualcomm are still big mutual customers, it’s very, very unlikely any iPhones will be blocked from reaching the U.S. More likely, Qualcomm is playing a leverage game in its larger battle with Apple over licensing fees. Hypothetically, if such a ban happened, it would affect the versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that run on the T-Mobile and AT&T networks.