FTC drops antitrust case against Qualcomm

The agency will not take its case to the Supreme Court, citing "significant headwinds."

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday gave up on its antitrust case against Qualcomm, dropping it rather than asking the Supreme Court to weigh in. 

In a statement, Acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said she still believes Qualcomm violated antitrust laws. However, she said the commission faced "significant headwinds... in this matter."

The FTC first filed a complaint against Qualcomm in 2017, charging that the company has a monopoly in baseband processors. The commission said Qualcomm used its position to suppress competition and overcharge smartphone manufacturers.

In 2019, a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of the FTC. However, in August 2020, that decision was reversed by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The FTC asked the full Court of Appeals to reconsider, but that request was denied. 

The commission's last option was to ask the Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision. 

In her statement, Slaughter said the district court's 2019 conclusion that Qualcomm violated the antitrust laws "was entirely correct" and suggested the agency plans to take an aggressive posture against alleged monopolies.  

"Now more than ever, the FTC and other law enforcement agencies need to boldly enforce the antitrust laws to guard against abusive behavior by dominant firms, including in high-technology markets and those that involve intellectual property," she said. "I am particularly concerned about the potential for anticompetitive or unfair behavior in the context of standard setting and the FTC will closely monitor conduct in this arena."

Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm EVP and General Counsel, said in a statement to ZDNet that the company is pleased to see the Ninth Circuit's unanimous decision stand.

"The Ninth Circuit acknowledged our historic contributions to the industry and reminded us all that hypercompetitive behavior should be encouraged," Rosenberg said. "Qualcomm got to where it is today by investing tens of billions of dollars in R&D and inventing technologies used by billions of people around the world. Now, more than ever, we must preserve the fundamental incentives to innovate and compete."