Qualcomm Hires Antitrust Legal Scholar

Mired in antitrust litigation, the San Diego chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. has hired an outspoken legal scholar to help shape its policy in this area and handle some cases.

Koren Wong-Ervin is departing as director of the Global Antitrust Institute at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University and will join Qualcomm’s legal department on Sept. 25.

“Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know [Qualcomm]’s antitrust team through academic and other conferences, which allowed them to become familiar with my writings both as an FTC official and academic,” Wong-Ervin said via email, adding, “I just couldn’t pass up such an amazing opportunity to work on such cutting-edge issues.”

In January, the Federal Trade Commission sued Qualcomm in San Jose federal court, accusing it of using anticompetitive tactics in order to maintain a monopoly as the supplier of broadband processors, a key semiconductor component found in cell phones and other devices. In 2016, South Korean antitrust regulators fined the company $890 million, and in 2015, Chinese antitrust regulators fined it $975 million.

It has also been reported to be under investigation for antitrust issues by regulators in Taiwan and the European Union.

Much of the antitrust scrutiny relates to its business model: The company sells billions of dollars worth of semiconductor hardware, and also derives revenue by charging licensing fees on the underlying patented technology. Regulators such as the FTC claim this dual revenue stream discourages competition.

Wong-Ervin, who previously served as counsel for Intellectual Property and International Antitrust in the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and later advised Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright, has been critical of the U.S. agency’s antitrust policies, including its evidentiary and royalty-related policies.

She has also publicly taken positions on Qualcomm’s antitrust issues: Earlier this month, she wrote in Forbes that international regulators are using antitrust law to devalue intellectual property, holding up Qualcomm as an example of a victim. In August, Wong-Ervin submitted written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives outlining her stance that foreign antitrust regulators, including in Korea, have taken positions that favor their own local companies.

“Foreign regulation of conduct involving U.S. property and markets, including dictating the royalty rates and other terms upon which U.S. intellectual property right holders can license their U.S. property rights, likely conflict with U.S. sovereignty and principles of international comity,” Wong-Ervin wrote in the testimony.

In an email, Wong-Ervin made clear that she has not joined Qualcomm and does not speak on behalf of the company, but said she believes many competition agencies have failed to provide due process rights to companies they regulate, among other criticisms.

Her move in-house at Qualcomm was first reported by the Global Competition Review.

Qualcomm’s outside law firms, representing it in federal courts over the past year, include Keker & Van Nest, Cooley, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Jones Day, Norton Rose Fulbright and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, according to Bloomberg Law.

Contact the reporter at gabefriedman@outlook.com.

Contact the editor at csullivan@bna.com.