After being handed a series of antitrust fines over its apparent abuse of power, Qualcomm is now facing a consumer lawsuit that could see it forced to compensate UK phone owners. The country's leading consumer association Which? is suing the Snapdragon chip maker to the tune of £482.5 million ($683 million) in damages for allegedly breaching competition law.
Which? claims Qualcomm used its dominance in the patent-licensing and processor markets by charging Apple and Samsung inflated fees for its tech licenses, which were then passed on to consumers in the form of higher smartphone prices. It estimates that individuals who purchased Apple or Samsung handsets since 2015 could be entitled to between £17 to £30 ($24 to $42) depending on the number and type of smartphones they bought.
Qualcomm has rubbished the allegations. "As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States," a company spokesman told BBC News, referencing the FTC suit for unfair practices from 2017 that was dismissed last year.
The latest challenge echoes the legal actions that have haunted the beleaguered chip giant over the past several years. While $683 million represents little more than 2.8 percent of Qualcomm's revenue in 2020, the company has struggled to free itself from the resulting bad publicity of fines and litigation woes. In Asia alone, it has previously been slapped with antitrust penalties in China, Korea and Taiwan that amounted to over $2.6 billion.
Meanwhile, the European Commission fined it €997 million ($1.23 billion) in 2018 for paying Apple to secure an exclusive modem deal. And again in 2019, when it was struck with a €242 million fine ($271 million at the time) for alleged price dumping on 3G chips.