Following complaints lodged by Ericson, Nokia, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, NEC and Panasonic, the Commission opened formal antitrust proceedings against Qualcomm, a US chipset manufacturer, in October 2007 (for details see our previous briefing on this).
The alleged breach related to abuse of a dominant position and the Commission was investigating whether the royalties that Qualcomm had been charging since its patent technology became part of Europe’s 3G standard were unreasonably high and whether Qualcomm had sought to exclude competing manufacturers from the market and to prevent new entry.
By December 2009, all the complainants had either withdrawn or indicated their intention to withdraw their complaints. In spite of the time spent developing its case against Qualcomm and the resources invested in the investigation so far, the Commission was obliged to close proceedings given the withdrawal of complaints.
It is interesting to note, however, that although the Commission was unable to set a precedent on standard setting in this instance, Per Hellström, a senior Commission official stated at a conference in Brussels in December 2009 that standard setting in the technology industry will gain prominence: “standards are increasingly important, and we will see more of them in the next commission”. Speaking in a personal capacity on the Commission’s approach, he indicated that companies that don’t disclose their patents, or that don’t respect principles of fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms for patent-use should face action stating that “open standards are important and, it might be a smart business decision to choose open standards”.