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Europe updates its predatory pricing investigation against Qualcomm over UMTS baseband chips

Ingrid Lunden
On the heels of Google getting served a $5 billion fine by the EU over

On the heels of Google getting served a $5 billion fine by the EU over monopolistic practices related to its Android operating system, the European Commission today resurfaced another ongoing case in the world of large U.S. tech companies. The EC said that it has added to its investigation into Qualcomm and its predatory pricing of UMTS baseband chips. Specifically, today the Commission has sent more details relating to elements of the "price cost" test that it had applied to measure just how much below cost Qualcomm was selling UMTS baseband chips to edge out competitors.

If the case is decided against Qualcomm, the company could face an additional fine of up to 10 percent of its worldwide revenues. In 2009, these were $10.4 billion, while in 2017, global turnover was over $22 billion.

The original, 2015 case was based on a complaint filed by Icera -- once a big player in baseband chips -- and dates back to practices between 2009 and 2011 and alleged that Qualcomm used its market position to negotiate artificially low prices for UMTS chips -- used in 3G phones -- in order to oust out Icera. Others that made similar chips include Nvidia.

Qualcomm has wasted little time in responding to the notice posted by the EC.

“This investigation, now in its ninth year, alleges harm in 2009-2011, to a competitor who chose years later to exit the market for reasons unrelated to Qualcomm,” said Don Rosenberg, general counsel and executive vice president of Qualcomm in a statement. “While the investigation has been narrowed, we are disappointed to see it continues and will immediately begin preparing our response to this supplementary statement of objections. We belief that once the Commission has reviewed our response it will find that Qualcomm’s practices are pro-competitive and fully consistent with European competition rules.”

Qualcomm is already in the middle of appealing a $1.23 billion fine in the EU over LTE chip dominance in the iPhone, related to deals that were made with Apple at the expense of another big rival of Qualcomm's, Intel. (Never mind that Apple and Qualcomm are also in the middle of a patent dispute.)

This older case, as Qualcomm points out, has been narrowed since it was first announced almost exactly three years ago. And while we don't know what the exact details of the supplementary objections are and whether they have expanded them again (we have contacted the EC to try to find out), the Commission also notes in its short statement -- printed in full below -- that sending an update to its calculations doesn't necessarily imply the outcome of this case.

Statement below.

The European Commission has sent a Supplementary Statement of Objections to Qualcomm Inc. This is a procedural step in the Commission's ongoing investigation under EU antitrust rules looking into whether Qualcomm engaged in 'predatory pricing'. The Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Qualcomm in December 2015 detailing its concerns. In particular, the Commission's preliminary view is that between 2009 and 2011 Qualcomm sold certain UMTS baseband chipsets at prices below cost, with the intention of eliminating Icera, its main competitor in the leading edge segment of the market at that time. UMTS chipsets are key components of mobile devices. They enable both voice and data transmission in third generation (3G) cellular communication. The Supplementary Statement of Objections sent today focuses on certain elements of the "price-cost" test applied by the Commission to assess the extent to which UMTS baseband chipsets were sold by Qualcomm at prices below cost. The sending of a Supplementary Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. More information is available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number AT.39711.