Qualcomm Wins, Morals and Ethics be damned
2019-04-18 12:22:50

There just isn't any other way to summarize the outcome of Apple vs. Qaualcomm. For several years now the two titans have been battling each other over patent royalties - just how much a patent is worth.

This wasn't a walk away decision where each company goes their own way and settles. This was an obvious win for Qualcomm and a loss for everyone else. Apple, if they won, stood to add $27 billion to their account. An Apple win would have helped everyone, with Qualcomm being forced to offer more FRAND'ly (Fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) to all phone vendors in the future.

Had a jury actually determined Qualcomm to be the winner, they could have banked about $21 billion from Apple and manufacturers. Not quite an equal outcome, but what's a few billion between friends, or enemies?

Apple certainly seemed to have the high ground with even the US Federal Trade Commission getting in on the act and charging Qualcomm with antitrust violations. The FTC's case is still pending the judge's verdict but in our opinion it certainly showed the Qualcomm over the years had used its monopoly status to extract high fees from users of its modems and other products.

So what happened? The case of Apple vs. Qualcomm had just started this week with an expected length of four weeks. Jurors had been chosen and the case was ready to get underway. Then suddenly, the two companies announce an end to all litigation with Apple paying a substantial penalty to Qualcomm. How could Apple come out with the loosing hand? Did they finally find that they were in fact the ones holding the smoking gun?

Within hours of the announcement, Intel (Apple's 5G partner) announced that they were no longer working on 5G modems. Just to keep score, that's one less competitor to Qualcomm in the above FTC case - hard to say there is plenty of competition when Intel drops out. In the 5G market, that leaves Hauwei (a company who's products the US Government won't allow to touch its networks) and Qualcomm. Yup, that's real competition alright.

Was Apple so scared of not having a 5G product that it gave into Qualcomm - certainly looks that way. To our waxy-selves, it appears that Apple put future sales over their own conscience and morals. Better to give the bully your lunch money, rather than stand up for yourself and others. Apple essentially put shareholders first over what's right.

What would have happened had the case gone to jury?

Let's say that Apple would have won. They had two things in their favor; the case wasn't being heard in the Eastern District of Texas and the fact that Qualcomm has for years bullied everyone to use their products and pay dearly for them. An Apple win would have setoff a chain of events that in the short-term would not have been good for Apple. A win is not a win until all appeals have been heard and the cheque has cleared the bank. If Intel had not been able to deliver a 5G modem in time for 2020 iPhone models, Apple would have to go to market without a 5G product.

Why is that necessarily a problem? Because consumers are sheeple and have the buy the latest and greatest even if it doesn't work. Right now, the only countries with 5G networks are China, South Korea and Japan. We admit, there are a lot of mobile customers in those customers, but are there really that many that Apple couldn't go a year without them?

Apple is rumored to be working on its own modem chip that won't be ready until 2021 or 2022. Two to three years is a long time in the tech field, but given that most countries won't have 5G until around 2025, Apple would still be early to many markets.

The big unanswered question is for Intel: Did you jump or were you pushed? A truthful answer could help to make sense of Apple's position. If Intel could have had a 5G modem ready for 2020, but cancelled everything when Apple and Qualcomm came to terms, that puts Apple's defeat into really strange territory. If Intel had been quietly telling Apple that their 5G modem just wasn't going to happen for 2020 or even at all, then Apple gave in because they didn't want to be without a 5G offering to the mass of sheeple out there. If that was the case, then again, why not put 5G on hold until the Apple modem was ready, or maybe they knew that wasn't going to happen any time soon either.

We admit, no matter what the case was, Apple appears to have had no choice with Qualcomm in the short term. But if Apple had won the case, wouldn't that force Qualcomm to start selling modems to Apple and everyone else at FRAND'ly terms? Yes, but a win wouldn't force Qualcomm to sell to Apple quickly. Had Apple won, they could have been the last company to get chips from Qualcomm causing Apple's production line to have to wait for fulfill phone orders to customers. A win would not necessarily been a win.

Was Apple between a rock and hard place? Quite probably. Could they have waited for 5G from Intel or themselves? Yes, but neither would be guarantees for 202x. Could they have bought Huawei modems for sales in Asia and waited for an Intel or Apple 5G modem for the rest of the world? Short answer, Yes! Long answer is that would put Apple at odds with their own country and could cause issues if the Apple / Huawei phones made it to US shores. It would also erode consumer confidence in Apple that they were relying upon a rumored agent of the Chinese government to provide parts for iPhones.

Could Apple have won? Quite probably. Did Apple do what was in the best interest of the company and shareholders? Yes. Did Apple throw ethics and morals out the window by bowing down to Qualcomm? Definitely. As many of the staff are shareholders of Apple, we're torn. Qualcomm should not have won, but neither should Apple have lost so visibly.

We can only hope that the US FTC has better luck and won't cave in so easily to Qualcomm. Maybe that's what Apple is also hoping for. No matter the agreement Apple has with Qualcomm, it would certainly get tossed and renegotiated if / when Qualcomm is found guilty of monopolistic practices. Apple could also have their own replacement modem ready in five years or less and then tell Qualcomm to take the proverbial long walk off a short San Diego pier. We can only hope.