June 7, 2007 3:11 PM PDT

Import ban slapped on some 3G handsets

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Thursday ordered an import ban on some phones using 3G chipsets from Qualcomm that have been found to infringe on a patent held by Broadcom.

The import ban is a bit of a compromise, as it essentially grandfathers phones that use technology that violates the patent. It does not apply to cell phone models imported for sale to the general public on or before the June 7, 2007 date of the order, the ITC said. But the ban does apply to the import of new models of handheld wireless communications devices that contain Qualcomm's infringing chips and chipsets.

"The commission determined that barring importation of downstream products, with an exemption for certain previously imported models, will substantially reduce the burdens imposed on third parties while affording meaningful relief to the patent holder," the ITC said in its order.

Last year an administrative judge at the ITC 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. The technology is used in chipsets Qualcomm has developed for high-speed wireless networks known as 3G networks, which use the technologies EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) and WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).

The order could have serious ramifications for wireless operators such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, which have built their networks using EV-DO. AT&T, which is building a WCDMA network, could also be affected. Qualcomm is the dominant manufacturer of EV-DO chipsets, and it is a major supplier of WCDMA chipsets for devices that operate over AT&T's network.

These operators have spent billions of dollars over the past few years building out these 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 the EV-DO and WCDMA networks will also likely suffer from a ban.

The much-anticipated Apple iPhone, which will be sold exclusively for AT&T's network, will not be impacted by this ban, since the phone does not use WCDMA. It uses AT&T's slower 2.5G network technology.

Qualcomm and Broadcom have been battling each other in court over patent infringement for several years. Last week, a federal jury in Santa Ana, Calif., found Qualcomm guilty of infringing three Broadcom 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 has also filed patent infringement lawsuits against Broadcom.

"We are very pleased with the ITC's ruling, and gratified that the commissioners followed the letter and spirit of their charter, which is the protection of American products from unfair trade practices," Broadcom said in a statement. "We have been forced to seek redress in the ITC and the courts because Qualcomm has repeatedly refused to recognize the value of Broadcom's patented technology."

CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Qualcomm Inc., W-CDMA, Broadcom Corp., ban, EVDO

6 comments

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Lawsuits
I see one more lawsuit, if Sprint, Verizon & the handset makers can't bring new products into the country, they should all band together & hit broadcom with a massive suit. Tie them up in court for years & drive them into bankruptcy.
Posted by jsmith1785 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why?
It is a legitimate patent and fairly well defined one at that. Qualcomm has used it patents in the same manner, so why single out Broadcomm for this?
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Link Flag
Remember kids, patents encourage innovation
Yet another demonstration of the absurdity of the patent system. Broadcom, a company that doesn't even make EV-DO chipsets, can stop Qualcomm from selling Qualcomm's own EV-DO designs. Of course it's hard to feel sorry for Qualcomm, since they are one of the welfare mommas of the patent system too.
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is why Apple's iPhone doesn't have 3G!
This is probably why Apple's iPhone doesn't have 3G support!
(which kinda is a bummer) But that has turned out to be a smart
decision for Apple being this ban is so close to the iPhone launch.

That would have been a scary thought, Apple's iPhone banned 3
weeks before launch because of a internal suppliers chip was
banned in the US due to patent infringement.
Posted by Terrence Koonce (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you sure?
I thought 3G GSM was WCDMA whereas 3G CDMA is EV-DO.

Whatever the case, the only company that is more evil than Qualcomm is SCO. Qualcomm is not evil because they made CDMA (which in turn makes US cell phone quality inferior), but because they they are vicious over their IP. CDMA is good technology, it just requires us to have to build twice as many towers, which means more dead spots.
Posted by i_am_still_wade (250 comments )
Link Flag
Patents
Patents in standards used to be tolerated to reward innovation. I now observe a lack of transparency and a serious abuse of the system.
Posted by michel.audoux (1 comment )
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