“SHOULD five per cent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all.” The Beatles wrote “Taxman” in 1966 to protest at Harold Wilson’s exorbitant “supertax” rates. Critics of Qualcomm, the world’s biggest chip-design firm, would say the lyric is a clue to the company’s business practices. Its methods have attracted a barrage of legal complaints. The latest came on January 25th, when Apple, a smartphone maker, sued it in China for abusing its clout in mobile processors and demanded 1bn yuan ($145m) in damages. Just days earlier Apple had filed a similar lawsuit in California asking for $1bn.
America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a separate complaint against the firm this month. In late December, the equivalent body in South Korea fined it a whopping $853m, which hurt its quarterly results, announced this week. These cases follow two similar ones in 2015: Chinese regulators imposed an even higher fine, of $975m; and the European Commission found Qualcomm guilty of having sold chips below cost to hurt rivals.
Qualcomm is no household name, but most people with mobile phones use its technology….