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Agency eyes complaint against Qualcomm

ITC to investigate whether company's chips use technology developed by Broadcom, but no decision expected until late 2006.

A trade commission says it has begun investigating whether certain of Qualcomm's cell phone chips use technology developed by Broadcom, a competitor, in a way that violates patent law.

Broadcom released a statement early Monday saying the U.S. International Trade Commission, or ITC, is looking into the matter, and the agency confirmed the investigation is under way. The ITC is not expected to make any decisions until the latter part of 2006.

According to Broadcom Vice President David Rosmann, a ruling adverse to Qualcomm could halt the flow into the United States of a "significant number" of new cell phones using CDMA, a standard that's supported by Verizon Wireless, Sprint, plus other operators in North America and parts of Asia.

CDMA is widely used in the United States, though the No. 1 cell phone standard worldwide is GSM. It powers nearly seven out of 10 handsets.

Broadcom filed two lawsuits against Qualcomm last month. Qualcomm has not filed any response to the Broadcom lawsuits.

Qualcomm believes Broadcom's allegations are without merit, said spokesman Jeremy James. "They will conclude Broadcom's claims are without merit" when the investigation is over, James said.

San Diego-based Qualcomm is also the target of a similar but much longer-running patent-licensing battle with Texas Instruments. The Delaware Supreme Court recently handed Texas Instruments what could be a victory in that dispute.