DOJ asks appeals court to pause enforcement of Qualcomm antitrust ruling

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The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday asked a federal appeals court to temporarily halt enforcement of an antitrust ruling against Qualcomm, citing the necessity of the company in 5G networking, and support from both the Energy Department and Defense Department.

"For DoD, Qualcomm is a key player both in terms of its trusted supply chain and as a leader in innovation, and it would be impossible to replace Qualcomm's critical role in 5G technology in the short term," wrote Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary for Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, in a filing seen by Reuters. The company was one of the first to market with a 5G modem for smartphones and tablets.

The Trump administration and others in U.S. government have strongly opposed Chinese businesses gaining dominance in the 5G space. The worry is not just economic, but that the Communist Party could push for backdoors that would enable spying and cyberwarfare. State-sponsored hackers have repeatedly probed American networks.

The antitrust case in question was brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which won an initial verdict in late May. The agency successfully argued that Qualcomm engaged in anti-competitive patent licensing, and U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ordered the firm to license to rival chipmakers.

Qualcomm quickly launched an appeal, but has had no luck staying enforcement pending the outcome.

Apple and Qualcomm settled their own patent licensing fight in April. After the fact it was revealed that Apple had plotted a years-long scheme to reduce its royalty payments, which is likely why the case settled on the first day of trial, netting Qualcomm between $4.5 billion and $4.7 billion.