WASHINGTON – Qualcomm
and Broadcom executives squared off yesterday in front of
the U.S. International Trade Commission over Broadcom's
push for a ban on the import of cell phones that contain
certain Qualcomm chips.
Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs (center) and Broadcom
CEO Scott McGregor (right) gave opposing testimony
before the International Trade Commission on whether
to ban imports of some cell phones with Qualcomm
A commission judge ruled last year that one of
Qualcomm's chips put into cell phones infringes on a
Broadcom patent. One question before the commission is
whether the remedy should be an outright ban on importing
phones with the offending chips.
In addition to coming up with a remedy for Broadcom,
the ITC, a federal agency, must consider the impact its
decision would have on the public interest.
“I am sure there will be presentations today and
tomorrow implying that Judgment Day will be upon us” if
the phones are banned, Broadcom Chief Executive Scott
McGregor told commissioners during the first day of the
The dispute centers around a Qualcomm chip inside the
phones that can be used to connect to the Internet, listen
to music and play video. The chip made by the San
Diego-based company preserves a phone's battery power when
it is taken outside of its network.
Rival chip maker Broadcom successfully argued to
the ITC that some of Qualcomm's chips infringed on
one of its patents.
What's changing: The International Trade
Commission wraps up a two-day hearing today in
Washington on whether it should ban the
importation of some cell phones that use Qualcomm
chips. Testifying today are representatives of
wireless carriers and cell phone makers that could
have some of their phone imports banned, as well
as public safety officials.
The future: The ITC has said it will
make a decision by May 8.
McGregor and other experts testifying for Irvine-based
Broadcom insisted plenty of alternatives are available for
consumers who want phones that perform similar functions,
including a growing line of so-called “smartphones.”
The two Southern California companies at odds over this
chip are also opponents in other cases pending in Orange
County federal court and in front of European antitrust
The last time the ITC held a public hearing to consider
a remedy for a patent infringement case was in 1993.
Government and industry officials said the commissioners
wanted to hear the arguments in person rather than
depending on written briefs because of the wide impact
their ruling could have on the fast-evolving wireless
Current owners of phones containing the chips would not
be affected by a ban. But it would prevent such phones
from being shipped into the United States in the future.
Broadcom insists that a ban is necessary to protect its
intellectual property rights.
Qualcomm executives argued a full ban is too severe and
would reduce competition, damage the U.S. chip industry
and compromise public safety.
“We are strong believers in intellectual property,”
Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs told the commission
But Jacobs said the ban would “have a major impact on a
very significant part of our business and the cellular
business in general.”
Qualcomm also argues a ban would result in fewer
choices and increased costs for consumers and have an
adverse effect on emergency workers, such as police and
firefighters, who depend on the cell phones.
Broadcom officials disputed this and showed
commissioners a copy of an advertisement depicting three
phones that have similar capabilities – and two of them
were phones that would not be affected by a ban.
Broadcom's McGregor said some smartphones available now
were not on the market when Commission Administrative Law
Judge Charles E. Bullock ruled against Qualcomm last
October. Bullock has recommended against a full ban on
An attorney for the commission weighed in on Broadcom's
side, arguing that the ban is necessary. Karin J. Norton
said allowing manufacturers of the phones “to continue to
benefit from what has already been determined to be an
unfair trade practice will provide them with a competitive
advantage over those who conduct business lawfully through
the negotiation of licenses to necessary intellectual
Qualcomm officials said alternatives that are available
have a full typewriterlike keyboard, which they said may
not be what consumers want. Some alternatives also are
larger than cell phones, they said.
Witnesses for Broadcom denied the ban would have any
effect on public safety. “It will be nil,” said Roger A.
Van Nest, an attorney for Broadcom.
Frances Edwards, an associate professor of political
science at San Jose State University who has a background
in emergency response, said first responders depend on
radio equipment rather than cellular communications.
Qualcomm witnesses agreed that radios will remain the
main communication tool for first responders for some
time, but they said advancing cellular technology provides
an increasingly valuable supplement.
“There is extensive use of cell phones throughout the
entire first responder community,” said Joseph L. Hanna,
an emergency services expert testifying for Qualcomm.
The hearing continues today with more testimony from
emergency services personnel as well as from cell phone
makers that use the Qualcomm chips.