UK smartphone owners could be set to share a mega refund payout

Young woman using mobile phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

4G smartphone owners across the UK could be entitled to part of a significant payout thanks to a landmark court case against chipmaker Qualcomm.

A new campaign from consumer watchdog Which? is claiming that millions of UK smartphone users may have been overcharged for their devices due to anticompetitive market conditions.

The firm alleges that around 29 million owners could get a piece of a collective £482.5 million in damages from the US tech giant if the case is brought to court in the UK following similar action overseas.

Qualcomm case

Which? says that Qualcomm has breached UK competition law by taking advantage of its dominance in the patent-licensing and chipset markets.

As most smartphones on sale today are powered by some form of Qualcomm hardware, this means that the company is able to charge manufacturers like Apple and Samsung inflated fees for technology licences. Which? says that these high costs have then been passed over to consumers in the form of higher smartphone prices.  

Qualcomm has already been found liable in other markets outside the UK, including a recent court ruling by the European Commission so Which? believes consumers have ground for a case here. 

The watchdog is seeking damages for all affected Apple and Samsung smartphones purchased since October 1 2015, estimating that individual consumers could be due up to £30 depending on which device they purchased during that period, with most consumers expected to receive around £17.

“We believe Qualcomm’s practices are anticompetitive and have so far taken around £480 million from UK consumers’ pockets – this needs to stop. We are sending a clear warning that if companies like Qualcomm indulge in manipulative practices which harm consumers, Which? is prepared to take action," said Anabel Hoult, CEO of Which?

“If Qualcomm has abused its market power it must be held to account. Without Which? bringing this claim on behalf of millions of affected UK consumers, it would simply not be realistic for people to seek damages from the company on an individual basis – that’s why it’s so important that consumers can come together and claim the redress they are entitled to.”

Which? is now hoping the Competition Appeal Tribunal will let the claim progress - although it notes that there is no guarantee that compensation will be made available in the future, and is urging Qualcomm to settle this claim without the need for litigation by offering consumers their money back. 

Qualcomm has hit back against the case, with a company spokeman telling the BBC that the case had "no basis".

"As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States," the spokesman added.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.