A US trade judge on Friday declined to block the importation of Apple iPhones with chips from Intel, handing a major defeat to Qualcomm in its high-stakes legal dispute with the iPhone maker.
A US International Trade Commission (ITC) judge said Apple's phones infringed one Qualcomm patent related to power management technology, but denied the chipmaker's request for a ban on the import of some iPhones into the United States.
Thomas Pender, an administrative law judge at the ITC, said that "public interest factors" weighed against granting Qualcomm's request for a ban.
The determination will be reviewed by other judges. Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, has another pending patent case against Apple before the ITC.
Apple said in a statement that Qualcomm had unfairly demanded royalties for technologies it had nothing to do with.
"We’re glad the ITC stopped Qualcomm’s attempt to damage competition and ultimately harm innovators and US consumers,” Apple said.
In a statement, Qualcomm general counsel Don Rosenberg said the company was pleased the judge did find patent infringement, but "it makes no sense to then allow infringement to continue by denying an import ban", he said.
"That goes against the ITC mandate to protect American innovators by blocking the import of infringing products,” Mr Rosenberg said. “There are many ways Apple could stop infringing our technology without affecting the public interest."
Apple and Qualcomm are locked in a wide-ranging legal dispute in which Apple has accused Qualcomm of unfair patent licensing practices. Qualcomm has in turn accused Apple of patent infringement.
San Diego, California-based Qualcomm initiated an ITC case against Apple in July 2017, alleging that iPhones containing Intel chips infringed six patents describing technology that helps smartphones perform well without draining the battery.
Qualcomm did not allege that Intel chips violate its patents, but claimed that the way Apple implemented them in the iPhone does.
In a blog post on Friday after the ITC decision, Intel's general counsel, Steven Rodgers, said Qualcomm had "publicly disparaged Intel’s products" as inferior to Qualcomm's during the case.
"It is easy to say things, but Intel’s track record is clear," Mr Rodgers wrote in his post. "Every day, we push the boundaries of computing and communication technologies. And, the proof is in the pudding: last year, the US Patent Office awarded more patents to Intel than to Qualcomm."
The ITC is a popular venue for patent disputes because it handles cases relatively quickly and can more easily bar an infringing product from the US market than federal courts can.
Qualcomm dropped three of the six patents from the case before a trial that began in June.
Mr Pender said in Friday's decision that Apple infringed only one of the three patents remaining in the case.