Qualcomm accused of anti-competitive behaviour

The way the mobile intellectual-property powerhouse licenses its 3G patents is bad for consumers, according to six handset makers and chipmakers

A number of the biggest names in the mobile industry have lodged a complaint with the European Commission accusing Qualcomm of anti-competitive behaviour.

Companies including Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm's arch-rival Broadcom filed the complaint on Friday, which alleges Qualcomm has violated EU competition law with regards to the use of its 3G patents.

The six companies behind the complaint have told the EU they believe Qualcomm is not licensing its "technology on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms" and have called on the EU to investigate the company's business practices.

Qualcomm is an intellectual-property powerhouse in the mobile industry, having pioneered the CDMA technology behind most 3G networks, and also sells chipsets that go in phones.

Qualcomm's pricing structure in particular has drawn the ire of the other mobile vendors. The six — also including NEC, Panasonic and Texas Instruments — labelled Qualcomm's chipset pricing "excessive and disproportionate", due to the lack of discrepancy in cost between W-CDMA and CDMA2000 royalties.

The patent for CDMA2000 is exclusively owned by Qualcomm, while W-CDMA, a different flavour of 3G, is only partially derived from Qualcomm's technology. With every 3G handset sold, Qualcomm gets a royalty payment.

However, according to the company's accusers, no matter which version of 3G is used, Qualcomm receives the same royalty.

The six mobile companies also alleged Qualcomm has been acting anti-competitively by preventing other mobile chipset makers from entering the market. They accuse Qualcomm of offering lower prices to handset makers that buy exclusively from them and refusing to license their technology to competitors at fair rates.

The end result, say the six mobile companies, is higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

San Diego-based Qualcomm failed to respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.