From the New York Times ‘On Tech’ column (Shira Ovide, Jan 6)
"One of the technology industry’s dullest companies offers lessons in how the superstars like Google and Facebook might manage to outlast government lawsuits, and seems to have weathered endless crises that many people — myself included — thought could take the company down.
Qualcomm may point to a path for other tech companies that are now facing what it went through: threats from sweeping litigation, potential new regulations, uncertain finances and the howling of many business partners.
The company showed that with enough patience, money, lawyers, luck and products that people really need, it’s possible to stay the course and emerge relatively unscathed from years of drama.
This is either a heartening tale of survival or a depressing lesson that rich companies can skate past their problems. Maybe a little of both?
If you’re unfamiliar with Qualcomm, just know that there would be no digital life as we know it without the company. Qualcomm’s technology is responsible for connecting smartphones to the internet, and for years it has been one of the most important tech companies that you probably never think about.
But Qualcomm has also constantly been on the edge of a cliff, because it makes money in a way that has won it few friends. Most of its profits have come from charging fees to smartphone companies like Samsung and Apple to use technology that Qualcomm has patented.
Smartphone makers typically have to pay Qualcomm for its patents whether or not they buy its chips. The fee tends to be based on the eventual sales price of the phone.
Many of Qualcomm’s biggest customers — including Apple — and so many governments that I lost count have said that Qualcomm’s pricing and business tactics were unusual and that the company unfairly bullied customers and mowed down competitors.
All of those fights could have forced the company to split apart or maybe even go broke. Qualcomm maintained through all of this that its conduct was fair and appropriate. And the company has mostly been vindicated.
Qualcomm also showed a snowball effect of controversies. Once one government or business partner started to question Qualcomm’s fees and business tactics, that emboldened other regulators, customers and critics to pile on, too. We’re seeing that with the tech giants now.
I’m not predicting that Big Tech will, like Qualcomm, emerge mostly unharmed and unchanged from antitrust lawsuits and other fights. But that company is a reminder to me that sound and fury about whether a company cheats to win might in the end amount to not that much."