Qualcomm Takes Message Underground, Literally, Amid Antitrust Fight


Qualcomm Metro


Qualcomm is working to win hearts and minds in the nation’s capital as it battles the Federal Trade Commission and Apple Inc., one of its largest customers, over antitrust allegations related to its patent licensing practices.

It’s hard to miss the Qualcomm ads splashed across D.C. Metro train cars and buses this summer. The company is sending a message: Qualcomm chips and intellectual property are ultimately powering mobile phones that Washington’s legislators and bureaucrats can’t do without.

A cleanly designed ad spotted on a yellow line train says: “A piece of legislation downloads faster than you can say ‘markup.’ Qualcomm makes that possible.” Another ad reads: “News breaks, you react, your smartphone doesn’t skip a beat. Or a byte. Qualcomm Technologies make it possible.”

The yellow line stops at the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station, a stone’s throw away from the FTC’s office. The agency sued Qualcomm in January, alleging that the chipmaker used its patents to monopolize the market for semiconductors used in smartphones. Apple sued Qualcomm shortly after alleging it was forced to exclusively use Qualcomm chips in exchange for lower licensing fees.

Patent licensing is the bread-and-butter business of the chipmaker. It takes a cut in smartphone sales whether or not handsets from phone manufacturers like Samsung and Apple use one of its processors, because Qualcomm controls patents that are essential to basic functions of the phones.

Qualcomm has vehemently denied the allegations and is fighting the lawsuits in court. It has clearly also taken the fight to Washington’s transit system.

Under each ad seen in D.C., in small type, there's a tagline that it rolled out in June: “Why you love your smartphone.”