Qualcomm Faces EU Antitrust Probe – Report

Qualcomm is facing a possible antitrust investigation in Europe, apparently triggered by a complaint from a broadband chip-maker.

UK-based Icera, a developer of baseband processors for 3G and 4G cellular phones and tablets filed a complaint with the European Commission in 2010. At that time, it accused Qualcomm of anti-competitive behaviour according to Reuters. Icera was subsequently acquired by graphic chip specialist Nvidia in May 2011.

Patent-based incentives

The exact details of the Icera complaint have never been made public, but Reuters said that Icera accused Qualcomm of using patent-related incentives, as well as exclusionary pricing of chipsets, in order to discourage customers from doing business with Icera.

Despite the fact that the original complaint was filed four years ago, the investigation into the San Diego-based chip giant is only now being ramped up following the June decision against Intel by the European General Court, to uphold the €1.06 billion (£846m) antitrust fine levied by the European Commission in 2009. It is apparently not unusual for EU competition authorities to take several years to build a case before opening an investigation.

“The Commission may open a case after the summer,” Reuters quoted a source, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

This is not the first time that Qualcomm has faced a possible probe in Europe. In 2010, the EU competition authority apparently halted a four-year probe into Qualcomm after Ericsson and Texas Instruments withdrew their objections.

Chinese Probe

In 2013, Qualcomm revealed it is facing investigations in China, over allegations the chip maker had broken the country’s anti-monopoly law. For months after that, the US chipmaker said it was unsure exactly why it is under investigation in China by that country’s watchdog, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Some reports suggested that the investigation was part of an attempt to drive down the costs of networking equipment ahead of the 4G network rollout next year. But in February this year, the NDRC revealed that it had received complaints that the San Diego-based firm was allegedly charging higher prices in China than it does in other countries.

Qualcomm could be hit with a $1 billion (£0.6b) fine, if the Chinese watchdog that the company has been abusing its dominant position in the market.

It remains to be seen whether Qualcomm faces a similar threat to its finances in Europe.

Qualcomm did not respond to inquiries by TechweekEurope at the time of writing.

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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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