“These guys were scary smart and know how to position themselves in every part of the wireless ecosystem”Om Malik

The “scary smart” guys veteran technology journalist Om Malik was referring to in his 2005 article was Qualcomm.

In 2010 India was the market that helped Qualcomm conclusively establish LTE as the global 4G standard, defeating rival Intel’s WiMAX. The sheer size of the Indian telecom market was large enough to tilt the scales (China was already LTE). So high were the stakes that Qualcomm spent $1 billion to buy spectrum in the cities of Mumbai and Delhi, and the states of Haryana and Kerala, even though it had no intention of ever operating a network. (In 2014 it sold the spectrum to Bharti-Airtel for $1.2 billion).

Now, in 2017, India is once again Qualcomm’s most important market. Because telecom’s next major upgrade cycle – 4G to 5G – is just a couple of years away. And because India is the only large market globally where Qualcomm has yet to face regulatory blowback.

The US FTC is proceeding with an anti-trust case against it.

South Korea’s anti-trust agency fined it $853 million in December last year.

It paid $975 million to settle a Chinese anti-trust investigation in 2015.

It faces the prospect of daily fines of up to $665,000 in the EU for potential anti-trust violations.

Qualcomm was also being investigated by the Taiwanese anti-trust authority over its licensing practices.

All of these cases are variants of one common theme: that Qualcomm uses its formidable size and patents arsenal to charge inordinately high royalties from phone makers and to stymie competition.

Amidst this global storm, India appears as an oasis for Qualcomm. One it is intent on keeping serene.

India: The Final Frontier

In early July, the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition of the National Law University (NLU) in Delhi, organised its second annual roundtable at the Taj West End, a five-star hotel in Bengaluru. The post-lunch session was titled “Role of IP and Competition Policy in Technology Markets: Business and Industry Perspectives”.

The moderator of the panel, Jay P Kesan, a professor of IP and technology law from the University of Illinois, was virtually “toeing the line of the company spokesperson without any disclosure,” according to an attendee The Ken spoke to. Not just that, said the attendee, but the moderator would compulsively and aggressively “rebut any contrarian point raised by the rest of the panellists.” For instance, when a panellist pointed towards other countries like the US, Korea, and Japan investigating Qualcomm for anti-trust violations, the moderator quickly interjected to say, “Where is the evidence of abuse?”

Mr Kesan, who has co-authored several papers with a high-ranking Qualcomm official, also appeared to justify the company’s practices in patent licensing through several arguments.

AUTHOR

Venkat Ananth

Venkat is currently in his tenth year in journalism. Prior to The Ken, he was Deputy Content Editor at Mint as part of the newspaper’s digital team. He also wrote in-depth features on the business of sport for the newspaper. His earlier assignments include Yahoo! (as a columnist) and the Hindustan Times, where he began his career. Born in Mumbai, Venkat holds a Bachelor of Mass Media (Journalism) degree from SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai and a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London. He currently resides in New Delhi, where he moved nearly five years ago.

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