Qualcomm has won a major victory against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in an antitrust and anti-competitive lawsuit. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down this ruling in favor of Qualcomm.
The FTC had filed a court case citing unfair patenting licensing practices against Qualcomm in 2017. The case accused Qualcomm of using unfair licensing methods to maintain its monopoly in the supply of a key semiconductor component for smartphones. This impacted both CDMA and LTE devices.
The FTC argued that Qualcomm abused its position as the leading chip manufacturer to bind smartphone manufacturers in anticompetitive patent licensing clauses. This lead to the weakening of Qualcomm’s competitors.
The FTC argued that Qualcomm forced manufacturers, like Apple, to work exclusively with its technology. Also, the chipmaker was accused of forcing rivals to pay high license fees.
Incidentally, the FTC also argued that Qualcomm threatened to stop supplies to customers of a key semiconductor component if they did not agree to the licensing terms and additional licensing fees.
Originally, Qualcomm lost the case and was hit with a ruling by the District Court in May 2019. The Court ordered the chipmaker to renegotiate existing licensing terms, worth billions of dollars, with its customers.
Qualcomm appealed the ruling with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2019 and received a ruling in their favor this year.
FTC unable to explain how Qualcomm’s terms impacted rivals
The Appeals Court ruled in favor of Qualcomm, citing that the FTC was unable to explain how Qualcomm’s terms impacted its competitors negatively.
Alternately, Qualcomm’s argued that its licensing business is beneficial for the whole industry. The chipmaker said that Qualcomm doesn’t stop its rivals from accessing its technology.
As such, this does not restrict the opportunity for Qualcomm’s rivals. Instead, it is the smartphone manufacturers who pay the licensing fee as a percentage of the selling price of each device.
However, it must be noted that this ruling in Qualcomm’s favor could have been affected by another factor. The US Justice Department sided with Qualcomm in this appeal against the original ruling.
Qualcomm wins appeal against the FTC
Surprisingly, the US Justice Department sided with Qualcomm in this case. They argued that the original ruling against Qualcomm would negatively impact American leadership in the 5G technology space.
However, this ruling may not be the end of this saga. The FTC can ask a full panel of circuit judges to review this ruling. Also, the FTC can approach the Supreme Court for a review.
Though for now, it seems that Qualcomm has much to rejoice about.