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Qualcomm steps up fight against Apple

Qualcomm Inc. is asking federal trade authorities to block imports of some iPhones and iPads, opening a new front in its dispute with Apple Inc. and exposing both companies to further risks to their most profitable businesses.

Qualcomm said it plans to file a complaint Friday with the U.S. International Trade Commission to halt imports of Apple handsets and tablets that don't include Qualcomm chips, and to bar sales of those products already in the U.S.

Qualcomm said Apple has been infringing several of its patents on wireless technology in iPhones and iPads generally, but that it limited the scope of its request in part to avoid the broad economic impact of blocking sales of the products entirely.

The moves escalate a legal feud Apple initiated with a federal lawsuit in January accusing Qualcomm of using its dominance in cellular chips unfairly to thwart competitors and extract high patent royalties.

Apple in its suit complains that Qualcomm's royalty -- because it is calculated as a percentage of the handset price -- rewards the chip maker unfairly when Apple charges higher prices for capabilities that aren't based on Qualcomm patents. Apple has launched international legal actions and supported regulatory proceedings against Qualcomm in multiple countries, threatening the San Diego, Calif., company's patent-licensing business, which in 2016 accounted for roughly 80% of its pretax profit.

Qualcomm's latest move isn't likely to disrupt iPhone sales in the near term, if ever, because the trade commission -- an independent, bipartisan federal agency -- generally takes about 16 months to reach a conclusion, according to Lyle Vander Schaaf, a former commission general counsel now with law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione. If the commission were...