US watchdog kills off four-year antitrust complaint against Qualcomm, still insists it was right anyway

FTC cites 'significant headwinds' in trying to fight the San Diego chipmaker


Updated The Federal Trade Commission has given up its antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm although the US watchdog still claims the chip maker violated fair competition laws.

Qualcomm was accused of forcing smartphone makers into unfair supply agreements, locking competitors out by withholding licences for its technology, and more in the lawsuit filed by the FTC in 2017. Two years later, a court in northern California ruled that Qualcomm had broken antitrust laws Qualcomm fought back, and a panel of judges at the US Court of Appeals reversed the initial decision and declined to hear any more about it.

The FTC could have taken the case to America's Supreme Court but has now decided to drop the lawsuit altogether. Acting chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter confirmed on Monday the regulator will not be taking the legal complaint any further.

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“Given the significant headwinds facing the Commission in this matter, the FTC will not petition the Supreme Court to review the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in FTC v. Qualcomm,” she said in a statement. Slaughter was not involved in the initial efforts to go after the Californian chip biz.

Nevertheless, she said she “[continues] to believe that the district court’s conclusion that Qualcomm violated the antitrust laws was entirely correct and that the court of appeals erred in concluding otherwise.”

The decision marks an end to the four-year legal spat.

The Register has asked Qualcomm for comment. The FTC declined to make any additional comment beyond its statement.

“Now more than ever, the FTC and other law enforcement agencies need to boldly enforce the antitrust laws to guard against abusive behavior by dominant firms, including in high-technology markets and those that involve intellectual property,” Slaughter concluded. "I am particularly concerned about the potential for anticompetitive or unfair behavior in the context of standard setting and the FTC will closely monitor conduct in this arena." ®

Updated to add

“We are pleased that the case is over and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision stands. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged our historic contributions to the industry and reminded us all that hypercompetitive behavior should be encouraged,” Don Rosenberg, General Counsel of Qualcomm, told The Register in a statement.

“Qualcomm got to where it is today by investing tens of billions of dollars in R&D and inventing technologies used by billions of people around the world. Now, more than ever, we must preserve the fundamental incentives to innovate and compete.”


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