US trade body to investigate Apple after Ericsson complaints

The case is part of a growing spat between the two companies on LTE patents

The U.S. International Trade Commission has decided to investigate Apple after two complaints from Ericsson that the iPhone maker violated its patents.

The companies have been fighting since the start of the year when a license agreement covering Apple's use of Ericsson patents on LTE high-speed wireless technology expired. Apple complained that Ericsson had asked too much money for the patents during negotiations.

Apple sued Ericsson in January, arguing the patents are not essential for LTE technology and that the price was excessive. Ericsson counter-sued two days later, alleging Apple had infringed the patents and that the price was fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory -- the requirement for patents used in industry standards.

Patent lawsuits can be complex and often take years to go through the U.S. courts, leaving lawyers to argue about products that have become obsolete.

So companies lately have been turning more often to the ITC, which acts faster and can ban products from being imported to the U.S. if they find there is a likelihood of infringement. An import ban has an immediate effect on sales and can pressure a defendant into settling.

One of Ericsson's ITC suits involves "Apple iPhones, iPads, and other cellular-enabled products that use the 2G GSM and 4G LTE telecommunications standards." The other covers "smartphones, tablet computers, digital media players, and smartwatches."

The launch of an investigation by the ITC isn't an indication of infringement.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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