The FTC let Qualcomm off the hook with a tortured statement


Four years after Qualcomm was accused of misuse of monopolistic power to charge phone manufacturers additional licensing fees for its modems – and seven months after seemingly lost that battle in federal court – the Federal Trade Commission has decided to throw in the towel. throw. It no longer plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning the case has been closed.

If that were all I probably wouldn’t be writing for it The edge because things are exactly where we left off in August. But then I saw the explanation of the FTC in front of why it drops the case, and … well, just read it:

Given the significant headwinds facing the Commission in this case, the FTC will not petition the Supreme Court to review the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. FTC v. QualcommThe FTC staff did an exceptional job presenting the case, and I remain of the opinion that the district court’s conclusion that Qualcomm violated antitrust laws was perfectly correct and that the appeal court falsely reached a different conclusion . The FTC and other law enforcement agencies must now more than ever enforce antitrust laws to prevent abuse of dominant companies, including in high-tech and intellectual property markets. I am particularly concerned about the potential for anti-competitive or unfair behavior in the context of standards-setting, and the FTC will closely monitor behavior in this area.

Let me make this clear: The FTC believes it was right on this matter, finds it important, believes it is necessary “now more than ever” to “boldly enforce antitrust laws” and is “deeply concerned” about this kind of business. .. and yet it isn’t even taking the step to see if the Supreme Court will approve the case due to “significant headwinds”?

Maybe the FTC has bigger fish to fry now, or maybe he’s worried he’ll just lose again. After all, filing a petition with the Supreme Court isn’t cheap; in 2013, a lawyer who has done it repeatedly told marketplace that a petition can easily cost a quarter of a million dollars. Or perhaps the acting FTC chairman simply doesn’t think a vote to petition the Supreme Court would pass, given the current division of the workforce between two Republican and two Democratic FTC commissioners.

But the FTC’s tortured public statement doesn’t say those things. It feels a bit more like a cry for help from the US antitrust enforcer, an enforcer with a budget that is admittedly less than $ 350 million per year and an enforcer who repeatedly slaps big tech companies on the wrist – like fining Google about 37 hours in profit for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) with YouTube or issuing a record $ 5 fine billion in Facebook that was so weak that Facebook’s stock price even went up.

There are signs that the FTC could potentially change in meaningful ways, and my colleague Makena Kelly has written about it extensively, including Congress possibly amending the law to make it easier to file lawsuits against Big Tech, and the strong possibility that influential antitrust scientist Lina Khan could soon help lead the FTC with President Biden’s appointment. In the meantime, the agency that believes Qualcomm has a monopoly – the agency we expect to break such a monopoly – will just let it go.