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EU takes up Qualcomm antitrust investigation

As chip designer seeks to resolve antitrust allegations in China
Thu Aug 28 2014, 10:08

CHIP DESIGNER Qualcomm faces an antitrust investigation in Europe, even as it seeks to end a probe of its alleged monopoly practises in China.

Reuters reported that Qualcomm is looking for an amicable resolution of an investigation conducted by China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) over suspicions that it holds a monopoly in the Chinese telecoms market.

The investigation involves allegations that Qualcomm's China subsidiary has been overcharging and exploiting its position in the wireless communications sector.

The antitrust probe of Qualcomm has been ongoing since last November, when the firm revealed that it was under investigation by the NDRC, though at the time it said the NDRC had not revealed the substance of the investigation.

In February, the NDRC declared it had received complaints against Qualcomm from the China Communications Industry Association, regarding its market position and patent fees it charged Chinese mobile phone manufacturers.

While the NDRC has ruled that Qualcomm does hold a monopoly in China, it has yet to decide whether the company has abused its position in the market.

Under China's 2008 anti-monopoly laws, Qualcomm could face high fines, potentially topping $1bn.

In a statement to Reuters, Qualcomm said that it is seeking an amicable conclusion to the investigation. "Qualcomm executives discussed with NDRC officials several topics in an effort to reach a comprehensive resolution. We are continuing to cooperate with NDRC and cannot comment further," the firm said.

Given that the NDRC is targeting at least another 30 foreign firms with antitrust investigations, including Microsoft and Volkswagen, critics have suggested that the monopoly law is being used to unfairly target overseas firms so that China can protect its native businesses.

Even if the China case is settled Qualcomm is now facing the prospect of a monopoly probe in Europe. Reuters has also reported the company could face a European Commission antitrust investigation following a complaint made four years ago by British software defined modem company Icera, a subsidiary of Nvidia.

Icera alleged that Qualcomm had engaged in anti-competitive behaviour by discouraging customers from doing businesses with Icera through patent related incentives and exclusionary pricing of chipsets.

While it was thought that the allegations had dropped from the European Commission's agenda, the issue has resurfaced. It could even be fast-tracked following a similar monopoly case and subsequent fine made against Intel, which cost the company €1.1bn.

As yet, no official investigation has been opened by the European Comission. The INQUIRER contacted Qualcomm for a statement on both antitrust investigations, but the company has not yet responded.

Patents and their subsequent enforcement tend to play a major part in the technology industry as companies vie for market shares or state their supremacy. Qualcomm is no different, with the company having snapped up 2,400 patents from HP, including one for the now-defunct Palm technology, earlier this year. µ

 

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