Tech Giants Throw Weight Against Qualcomm

Computer companies and app developers have teamed up to back the Federal Trade Commission in its patent suit against Qualcomm and its licensing practices.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association and the App Association, whose members include Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Samsung, T-Mobile and many others, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

They were not weighing in on the FTC competition claims, but more narrowly on the specific issue of contractual interpretation. The FTC sought a summary judgement on those claims separate from the FTC's underlying competition issues with Qualcomm's conduct.

CCIA and the App Association argue that Qualcomm's holding of essential wireless patents does not mean it can include "hidden exclusions" from licensing that essential technology on fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms or to refuse to license to some parties because of where they appear in the supply chain.

"In today’s economy, businesses incorporate, use, and rely on wireless communications functionality in all sorts of ways," they told the court, "and it is imperative to a healthy marketplace and to fair competition that licenses to those technologies remain available on FRAND [fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory] terms to all market participants" required of participants in the standards-setting process.

Related: FTC Sues Qualcomm Charging Antitcompetitive Conduct

In January 2017, the FTC charged Qualcomm with using anticompetitive tactics to monopolize the supply of a key technology for cell phones and other devices.

On the specific issue of its essential patents, the FTC said that Qualcomm's essential patents were adopted by a standards-setting body--of which Qualcomm was a member--in exchange for which participants "typically commit" to license the patents on those FRAND terms. But the FTC concluded that "despite its commitment to license standard-essential patents on FRAND terms, Qualcomm has consistently refused to license those patents to competing suppliers of baseband processors."

The FTC asked the court to make Qualcomm "cease its anticompetitive conduct and take actions to restore competitive conditions."

Qualcomm has said the FTC charges are baseless.

"The portrayal of facts offered by the FTC as the basis for the agency’s case is significantly flawed," it said at the time the suit was filed. "In particular, Qualcomm has never withheld or threatened to withhold chip supply in order to obtain agreement to unfair or unreasonable licensing terms. The FTC’s allegation to the contrary--the central thesis of the complaint--is wrong."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.