back to article US watchdog sues Qualcomm for 'bribing' Apple to swallow chips

America's trade watchdog the FTC has sued Qualcomm, alleging the California-based biz trampled over US laws on fair competition. The three-count complaint [PDF] accuses the chip designer of strong-arming smartphone makers (cough, cough, Apple) into dodgy deals by abusing its war chest of patents. Qualcomm designs not only the …

  1. Herby

    Heard this one before??

    Microsoft in 2000 or so. Microsoft licensed computer vendors on a per unit basis, even if said unit didn't have Windoze. Primary reason why it is difficult to get Linux pre-installed from a computer vendor is my understanding.

    Of course if FTC goes after Microsoft, I'm sure others will be pleased, but I'm not holding my breath at all.

    Great business model if you can get away with it.

    1. Youngone

      Re: Heard this one before??

      The Microsoft thing happened from the 1990's as far as I can remember, but I'm pretty sure it's not illegal.

      The Qualcomm thing is slightly different, because of the patent angle, but it seems to me that is exactly what patents are for, to prevent anyone competing.

      Watch Qualcomm get away with this.

      It will either tie everyone up in court until the Sun expands into a red giant, or will agree to pay a tiny fine (with no admission of guilt).

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Heard this one before??

        "The company had to put in exceptions so some folks could clock in and out without the biometric component, because they had fingerprints that could not reliably be read."

        First off, these are HARDWARE patents relating to radio use, so they're quite legitimate. So no "software patent" talk.

        Second, there's a fine line to be drawn here. Patents are made to be used, but if the use becomes so dominant as to leave a de facto monopoly even after it expires (such that newcomers can't get in even WITH public access to the tech), then it's gone too far the other way.

      2. Esme

        Re: Heard this one before??

        @Youngone - if it isn't illegal it's sailing pretty damned close to the wind, being highly anti-competetive, and against consumer interests in forcing some consumers to pay for an OS that they do not want.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Heard this one before??

      Microsoft is a cute, little, cuddly kitten compared to Qualcomm.

      Anonymous - as I have worked for 7 years designing mobile gear and I may do it again one day.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Heard this one before??

        I don't think anyone who's done business with Qualcomm will be surprised by these allegations.

  2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    WiMax?

    I would attribute the failure of WiMax to Sprint using it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WiMax?

      Bribing Apple not to support WiMax was a waste of money, because Apple was exclusive with AT&T in the US at first. The iPhone didn't even support Sprint as a carrier until the 4S in Oct 2011, by which time WiMax was already dead.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WiMax?

      The failure of WiMax is largely due to a cartel of key LTE IPR holders, namely Qualcomm, Nokia, NEC and 3 out of 5 largest mobile operators organized against it. There is a paper trail too - the "white paper" prepared by strategy personnel in these while not in the public domain has leaked widely enough for it to be found if you go looking for it. It has come across my desk twice over the years.

      1. Slx

        Re: WiMax?

        The major advantage of it for mobile networks is that's part of the 3GPP standards and has full backwards compatibility with previous 2G GSM and UMTS. It's also providing an escape route for Qualcomm CDMA-One / 2000 / EV-DO standards which Qualcomm have actually discontinued development of.

        WiMAX also does not function very well at high speeds, rendering it useless on the intercity trains and even European-speed motorway travelling. The networks aren't designed to deal with terminals moving faster than 120km/h vs 450km/h for LTE.

        So basically a public WiMAX network would be hugely problematic for most European, Japanese and other intercity trains which typically run at at least 160km/h to 200km/h or in the 300-350km/h range at high speed.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: WiMax?

        There are other reasons for WiMax failure. Intel, also lack of flexibility.

        The Mobile Networks and handset makers were not going to have an Intel sponsored system forced on them. The work on LTE had already started and Flarion already had working 4G (Flash OFDMA). Sadly Flarion was bought by Qualcomm and their product buried. Qualcomm only really wanted the IP.

        For this reason the sale of NXP to Qualcomm should be blocked. Qualcomm isn't interested in most of NXP's production / products, only IP that matched their road map. It will be a bad day for Electronic designers.

        Microchip takeover of Atmel, Texas of National Semiconductor, Intel of Altera and ADI of Linear Technology are all benign in comparison.

        It's sad that Toshiba is selling out their chip bis and that ARM was sold.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pot meet kettle.

    I guess it's only fair to be unethical if you have enough money for lawyers, then I guess it's whoever fires the first shot... wins. Like Yin and Yang, but without Yang.

  4. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Sign hanging over Qualcomms door (probably) - "To patent is to profit'

    1. bazza Silver badge

      They should add, "But don't over do it...".

      There's a lot of companies out there that could do with remembering that part.

  5. whoseyourdaddy

    Thought you guys know about the scandal where Apple swallowed Intel modems.

    To hide this from customers, had to cut performance of the Qualcomm modems because... Intel sucks. http://appleinsider.com/articles/16/11/18/apple-confirmed-limiting-iphone-7-qualcomm-modem-to-keep-performance-on-par-with-intel-chip

    PJ is not his father and I find myself rooting for the FTC. But, Apple, you disappoint me. I guess you're getting modem chips the Qualcomm janitors couldn't throw away for iPhone 8.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thanks for the link, I didn't realize they had throttled Qualcomm's chips to match Intel's but few care about limiting the top end of LTE speeds that few see and even fewer can take advantage of due to data caps. I doubt anyone is going to switch from Apple to Samsung to get the full X12 speed.

      Apple's strategy here is likely to quit using Qualcomm entirely, and use Intel's baseband in all their phones. But I don't think their long term plan is to use an Intel chip, but rather to license Intel's IP and build the baseband into their SoC. That will save power and permit Apple full control over the baseband software, which is a big hole remaining for spying (Qualcomm controls that software, not Apple/Samsung/etc) as there are many who think the NSA has a Qualcomm provided backdoor in that code. Intel may already provide them the code, I don't know, but Apple likes to control both hardware and software, so it makes sense to integrate into the SoC.

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Apple the Victim of a Patent Bribe?

    Has the world turned on its head while I was asleep?

    This can't be true. Isn't this the SOP for Apple?

    I'm going back to bed...

    I must be having a bad dream.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple the Victim of a Patent Bribe?

      Everyone is vulnerable, just depends on who has the power. Apple HAD to have CDMA to sell phones in the US that worked across carriers, so they had no choice but to give in. Now that CDMA is becoming less important, Qualcomm is losing their power - as seen by Apple using an Intel chip in some phones last year. An inferior chip, sure, but in order to justify investment to make it better Apple had to agree to buy some, Intel isn't going to do all that work for free.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So Intel got stuffed by anti-competitive behavour...

    ...from Qualcomm. I am sure we all have immense sympathy for Intel.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: So Intel got stuffed by anti-competitive behavour...

      I came to the comments just to mention this.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Has everyone forgotten?

    Apple's 2014 $450 million settlement for ebook price fixing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Has everyone forgotten?

      And that has what to do with Qualcomm here? A company can be on both sides of monopoly abuse. Just depends on who has the power in a given relationship.

      Anyway, the ebook case was about Apple abusing monopoly power trying to take down another company abusing monopoly power, Amazon. Apple lost, Amazon won, now they have almost complete control of ebooks and are exercising their monopoly power over publishers. Is that really what's best for consumers?

  9. oneeye

    I had one of Qualcomm's early phone's through Sprint like 15 years ago. It was the size of a toddler's shoe, and I loved the spinning wheel for scrolling so much, I went through 3 phones over the course of its availability. Lost one in the lake, but they were great little phones. So, I guess I have a soft spot for them still ,Qualcomm competing just as hard as all the other cut throats, Apple being a leader too.

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