Kevin Frayer | Getty Images
Apple iPhones are seen on display at an Apple Store on January 7, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Qualcomm is seeking the ban in hopes of dealing Apple a blow before the two begin a major trial in mid-April in San Diego over Qualcomm’s patent licensing practices. Qualcomm has sought to apply pressure to Apple with smaller legal challenges ahead of that trial and has won partial iPhone sales bans in China and Germany against Apple, forcing the iPhone maker to ship only phones with Qualcomm chips to some markets.
Any possible ban on iPhone imports to the United States could be short-lived because Apple last week for the first time disclosed that it has found a software fix to avoid infringing on one of Qualcomm’s patents. Apple asked regulators to give it as much as six months to prove that the fix works.
Qualcomm brought a case against Apple at the U.S International Trade Commission in 2017 alleging that some iPhones violated Qualcomm patents to help smartphones run well without draining their batteries. Qualcomm asked for an import ban on some older iPhone models containing Intel chips.
In September, Thomas Pender, an administrative law judge at the ITC, found that Apple violated one of the patents in the case but declined to issue a ban. Pender reasoned that imposing a ban on Intel-chipped iPhones would hand Qualcomm an effective monopoly on the U.S. market for modem chips, which connect smartphones to wireless data networks.
Pender’s ruling said that preserving competition in the modem chip market was in the public interest as speedier 5G networks come online in the next few years.