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Qualcomm Wins Taiwan Reprieve as Global Antitrust Battle Rages

Ian King, Debby Wu
A Qualcomm Inc. baseband modem integrated circuit (IC) chip, center, of an Apple Inc. iPhone 6 smartphone is seen in an arranged photograph in Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told shareholders on Feb. 13 at the company's annual meeting to expect higher dividends and stressed that succession planning is a priority. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Qualcomm Inc., the smartphone chipmaker fighting regulatory actions and lawsuits threatening its most profitable business, has reached a settlement with Taiwan’s antitrust regulators that reverses most of a $773 million fine.

As part of an agreement announced Friday by the Fair Trade Commission, the company will invest $700 million over the next five years and boost research activities in Taiwan, home to a clutch of important suppliers to global names such as Apple Inc. In return, Qualcomm can stop paying fines and retains the right to charge manufacturers royalties on its technology. The commission said Friday it will keep NT$2.73 billion ($89 million) in fines that Qualcomm’s already paid but waive the rest.

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Taiwan’s decision reverses one of a number of actions taken against Qualcomm in recent years that investors worry will destroy its patent-licensing business, a unit that generates the majority of the company’s profit. Qualcomm has argued that such moves are part of a global push by Apple to elicit government support for its legal fight with the chipmaker. The iPhone maker is suing Qualcomm for antitrust violations, alleging the San Diego-based company unfairly leverages its market position in modem chips, and has said regulatory actions worldwide show its claims are justified.

Qualcomm still faces multiple lawsuits brought by Apple, as well as actions and investigations in the European Union and the U.S . The flood of legal challenges has weighed on the company’s stock price and made it a target for a failed hostile takeover bid by rival Broadcom Inc.

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“Both parties felt the FTC’s fines were controversial. And we feel, if we continue with the lawsuit, it will take too long should we take Taiwan’s industry progress into consideration,” FTC Commissioner Hong Tsai-Lung told reporters. A lengthy legal process “will have a very negative impact on Taiwan’s development, so that is why our stand has changed following an internal collective decision.”

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Chief Executive Officer Steve Mollenkopf has said Qualcomm will maintain its record of prevailing in court, and contends that the bitter fight with Apple is a commercial dispute that will be resolved when one side gains leverage in trials that are underway.

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In an October decision , Taiwan’s antitrust agency said Qualcomm had monopoly market status over key mobile phone standards and was violating local laws by not providing products to clients who didn’t agree with its conditions. Besides the fine, the Fair Trade Commission told Qualcomm at the time to remove previously signed deals that forced competitors to provide price, customer names, shipment, model name and other sensitive information. Qualcomm appealed the decision.

The company agreed to ensure fair negotiations with local licensees, and will support research and commercial projects in Taiwan, including collaborating on the development of fifth-generation wireless, Qualcomm said in a separate statement Friday.

Most of Qualcomm’s revenue comes from its main business of selling chips that connect smartphones to cellular networks. The company gets the bulk of its profit, though, from charging royalties on patents it owns that cover the fundamentals of all modern high-speed data phone systems.

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