Qualcomm recently got into trouble with the Chinese government, which decided to investigate numerous American companies based on anti-trust and national security concerns. Now, the EU regulators may be doing the same after they have finally decided to respond to a four-year-old anti-trust complaint made against Qualcomm by Icera, a modem company acquired by Nvidia three years ago.
The main accusation made by Icera is that Qualcomm used both patent-related incentives and exclusionary pricing of its chips to stop its customers from doing business with Icera. Until now, though, the complaint was ignored by the EU Commission. It is possible that the fact that China was investigating Qualcomm over anti-trust issues also prompted the EU Commission to see if there's any truth to these accusations.
It also happens that an EU Court upheld a 1.1 billion euro fine against Intel over similar accusations in a case that started years ago. It's not uncommon for the EU to build a case for several years to make sure it's gotten everything right and only then go to court if the vendor refuses to pay the fine (as in Intel's case).
Back in 2006, Ericsson and Texas Instruments also made a complaint against Qualcomm, but in 2010 the companies dropped the complaint, so the EU Commission closed the case. This time, however, it seems Qualcomm won't get off so easily, and the Commission may open a new case against Qualcomm after the summer is over.
Over the past few years, Qualcomm, formerly known primarily as a modem maker, has seen rapid growth in the mobile industry, beginning with the company making the first 1 GHz mobile processor and then continuing with high-performance, battery-efficient chips that had integrated LTE modems. That advantage over the competition gave Qualcomm a big head start in LTE markets and made it almost the default choice for most OEMs.
There have been clear benefits for OEMs going with Qualcomm's chips, so it's still unclear as to what exactly Qualcomm did wrong here, and how. But market leaders tend to become less than nice to the competition when they're at the top, especially if they want to keep that position and have the power to easily squash any rising threat.
Until the EU opens a full investigation into Qualcomm to see what is real and what is not and makes public more details, it's hard to know whether the accusations are exaggerated or if Qualcomm did indeed try to hurt the competition in some less-than-legal ways.