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Qualcomm import ban lifted

But not for er, Qualcomm

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The US Court of Appeals has ruled that the International Trade Commission can't actually ban third parties from importing kit containing Qualcomm chips, even if they breach a Broadcom patent.

In June last year the ITC issued a ban which prevented third parties from importing devices containing specific Qualcomm chips, on the basis that those chips infringe a Broadcom patent. But the companies importing the chips were not named in the action brought by Broadcom - and therefore, the Court of Appeals has decided, they can't be prevented from shipping them into the US.

However, Qualcomm's attempts to manoeuvre its chips from under the patent's cover failed, so it won't be able to ship any of its own chips into the country.

Qualcomm reckons it's redesigned its products to work around the Broadcom patent anyway, so the lifting of the ban won't have a big impact on day-to-day operations - it only represents another round in the ongoing struggle between the two companies.

The ruling (pdf) also gives a fascinating look at the English language, and how much money can depend on a single word or phrase. The Court of Appeal decided that the ITC had overstepped the mark on the basis of a clause that states under what conditions a third party can be banned from importing goods, and another that claims no clause shall be deemed superfluous - thus a ruling against Qualcomm can't be applied to third parties, as that would render the specific clause redundant. (Still with us?)

Given that the whole patent cases depends on the definition of the word "different", in the context "[A] second wireless communication different from the first", it's hardly surprising that the rulings are becoming increasingly semantic-dependent.

Qualcomm's assertion that the GSM specification is a "single document", for the purposes of prior-art, was undermined by each specification making up the standard having its own page numbering and cover picture. The ruling also found that while Qualcomm might have been guilty of encouraging others to break the patent, by providing documentation and technical support, this did not constitute "evidence of culpable conduct, directed to encouraging another’s infringement".

Basically this is one more round in a battle between the two companies, of more interest to English students than anyone using a mobile phone, but each battle surely brings the end of the war a little closer. ®

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