Apple iPhone import ban sought by suit

The iPhone evolved
The iPhone evolved

Networking giant Ericsson is trying to stop Apple from importing iPhones and iPads to the United States. It's part of a prolonged patent dispute between the two companies that has recently landed in several courts.

Up until last month, Apple (AAPL) had been paying Ericsson patent licensing fees in exchange for using its critical cell phone technology. Ericsson's (ERIC) patents cover crucial cell phone functions, including making and receiving calls, GPS location and some software that controls apps.

The licensing agreement ended in January without a new deal, and Apple simply stopped paying for the patents. Ericsson says it has been trying unsuccessfully to negotiate terms with Apple for the past two years. Apple says that Ericsson is trying to charge the company too much and apply its patents too broadly to cover unrelated Apple technology.

In turn, Ericsson filed seven lawsuits against Apple in the United States in addition to two international lawsuits. Ericsson is seeking unspecified damages and a sales ban for the iPhone and iPad.

As part of the international suits filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission, Ericsson is seeking a ban on shipments of iPhones and iPads to the United States. Most Apple products are assembled in China. The ITC has the ability to ban imports of goods deemed to infringe on patents.

Related: Apple ordered to pay $533 million in iTunes patent lawsuit

The lawsuits cover 41 patents, which Ericsson claims include the 2G and 4G radios, processor components, user interface software, location services and even the iOS operating system found within the iPhone and iPad.

"Apple's products benefit from the technology invented and patented by Ericsson's engineers," said Kasim Alfalahi, chief intellectual property officer at Ericsson, in a statement. "Features that consumers now take for granted -- like being able to livestream television shows or access their favorite apps from their phone -- rely on the technology we have developed."

Alfalahi said Ericsson has "acted in good faith to find a fair solution," but Apple "has refused all attempts" to arrive at a licensing deal.

Apple sees the situation differently.

"Ericsson seeks to exploit its patents to take the value of these cutting-edge Apple innovations, which resulted from years of hard work by Apple engineers and designers and billions of dollars of Apple research and development -- and which have nothing to do with Ericsson's patents," Apple said in its complaint filed last month in U.S. District Court in California.

"We've always been willing to pay a fair price to secure the rights to standards essential patents covering technology in our products," said Kristin Huguet, spokeswoman for Apple. "Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree with Ericsson on a fair rate for their patents so, as a last resort, we are asking the courts for help."

Patent disputes between tech giants are common, particularly when they cover technology used in the lucrative smartphone market. Some rulings have come down for multiple billions of dollars, and the ITC has been known to issue import bans.

But the cases are typically so prolonged and appealed so many times that by the time the bans are actually imposed, the smartphone maker no longer sells the phones in question.

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