South Korea fines Qualcomm $865M

Qualcomm, the company behind the Snapdragon processor found in most popular Android phones, is being fined more that $850 million in South Korea over alleged antitrust violations.

The South Korean regulator said that many of Qualcomm's business practices are in violation of the Korean competitive law, including those related to patent licensing and modem chip sales.

Korea has fined Qualcomm $854 million for abuse of a dominant market position.

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If the fine stands, and Qualcomm has to change its practices, some experts suggest that could mean lower prices for companies like Samsung and LG. "Qualcomm's technology and its business model have helped those companies grow into global leaders in the wireless industry". Chip set manufacturer and patent licensing firm Qualcomm owns standard essential patent (SEP) that is vital in manufacturing mobile devices.

Qualcomm "has violated its agreement to license patents on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms, known as FRAND", the Commission said in a statement.

The penalty is the highest-ever fine imposed by the FTC, breaking an earlier record of 668.9 billion won levied on six gas suppliers in 2010, Yonhap news agency reported. It remains to be seen whether or not the ruling will limit to Qualcomm's earnings coming from royalties paid by South Korean manufacturers, or it will attempt to regulate intellectual property rights granted by other countries or activities outside of South Korea.

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Calling the move "unprecedented and insupportable", the US firm said it would challenge the antitrust regulator's decision in the Seoul High Court. This move could affect Qualcomm's dealings with Apple, Huawei, Samsung, and Intel. The company has already announced that it plans on challenging the decision in court, though it may take some time before the court makes its final ruling on the case. Appeal notwithstanding, the company will have to pay the fine within 60 days. The Seoul decision might also bring down the costs for mobile phone makers that source Qualcomm chips.

However, aggressive competition in the mobile phone chipset market, stringent regulatory norms and anti-competitive charges are some of the major headwinds for the company.

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