Consumer Group Which? Targets Qualcomm In Legal Action

US chip giant Qualcomm is the subject of legal action that has been launched against it in the UK, by consumer group Which?

The group alleges that Qualcomm broke competition laws and artificially inflated prices for Apple and Samsung smartphones purchased since 1 October 2015.

Which? believes £480 million could be reimbursed if the claim is successful, which would translate to compensation of between £5 to £30 per user, depending on which devices were bought and how many were purchased.

Legal action

Which? Has filed its legal claim with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which will decide if the claim can proceed.

The watchdog is alleging that Qualcomm breached UK competition law by taking advantage of its dominance in the patent licensing and chip markets.

It believes Qualcomm charged inflated fees to smartphone manufacturers, which were in turn passed on to consumers in the form of higher smartphone prices.

It is urging people who think they qualify to sign up to the claim here.

Which? also provided this video, found here, to explain the fight against Qualcomm.

“We believe Qualcomm’s practices are anti-competitive and have so far taken around £480m from UK consumers’ pockets – this needs to stop,” said Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?. “We are sending a clear warning that if companies such as Qualcomm indulge in manipulative practices which harm consumers, Which? is prepared to take action.”

“If Qualcomm has abused its market power, it must be held to account,” Hoult added. “Without Which? bringing this claim on behalf of millions of affected UK consumers, it would simply not be realistic for people to seek damages from the company on an individual basis – that’s why it’s so important that consumers can come together and claim the redress they’re entitled to.”

Qualcomm response

However Qualcomm has rejected the claim by Which? and said the case had “no basis.”

“As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States,” a spokesman told the BBC.

It is worth noting that Qualcomm has already been stung multiple times by antitrust complaints and fines over the past six years.

Antitrust woes

The legal problems for the San Diego-based firm began in 2015, when Qualcomm was hit with two EU antitrust charges, amid accusations that it tried to price rivals (namely UK phone software maker Icera) out of the 3G industry between mid 2009 and mid 2011.

UK-based Icera was a developer of baseband processors for 3G and 4G cellular phones and tablets, and had filed a complaint with the European Commission against Qualcomm way back in 2010.

Icera was subsequently acquired by Nvidia in May 2011, and the GPU specialist later sued Qualcomm, alleging the company’s practices drove Icera out of the marketplace.

In 2019 the European Commission ruled that Qualcomm had engaged in ‘predatory pricing’, and it fined the US firm 242 million euros for abusing its market dominance in 3G baseband chipsets.

In January 2018, the European Union also levied a separate €997 million (£891m) fine against Qualcomm, alleging it paid key customers to sign exclusivity agreements.

That fine was for paying Apple to use only its chips in a bid to squeeze out rival Intel and others.

Qualcomm is currently appealing against both penalties.

Meanwhile the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States also sued Qualcomm in 2017 for unfair practices in the way it licensed its technology, but had its case dismissed last year.

Regulators in South Korea, Taiwan, and China have also imposed fines on Qualcomm for its business practices.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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