The holidays is a time that should be of, we are told, peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Well first that’s gendered, and second, a whole lot of tech companies are making it clear that there will be neither peace nor goodwill in the courtrooms and boardrooms of the world this year. There are spats between tech companies every year, but this year’s have been particularly spicy — and for some, the hot sauce is only getting poured on thicker!
This one kind of sucks, because it has the most immediate negative impact on the rest of us. Amazon and Google have been quietly beefing all year, with a flareup in September making headlines. That was when Google pulled YouTube from the Echo Show (Amazon’s smart home speaker with a display), complaining that Amazon wasn’t including all of YouTube’s regular features (stuff that helps YouTube make money, like subscriptions and autoplay).
They got that problem worked out, but it’s clear that Amazon and Google are, um, not in a healthy relationship. Things really popped off this week, with Google saying that not only will YouTube videos not be available on the Echo Show, but that anyone using an Amazon Fire TV stick will no longer have access to the YouTube app after January 1.
So, what’s Google’s problem? Well, it takes two. Google’s complaint is that Amazon, seller of literally all things, does not sell Google’s Chromecast or Home speaker, which compete directly with Fire TV and the Echo speaker. In fact, if you search for Chromecast or Google Home on Amazon, the very first results are the Fire TV Stick and the Echo Dot. Seems abusive on Amazon’s part! Amazon has also made Prime Video unavailable to anyone using Google Cast, and they’ve recently stopped selling some Nest products.
We’re mostly speaking in jest, but in all seriousness, this spat is pretty awful. Both companies are willfully giving their customers worse experiences to settle (or stoke) a business dispute. As more power and money becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate giants, it sure feels like this kind of thing is going to happen more and more in the coming years.
Alright, let’s get in the courtroom! 2017 got off to a bad start for Qualcomm, as they got hit by antitrust action from both the governments of both the United States and South Korea, which in part accused Qualcomm of charging exorbitant prices for licensing fees. Apple, a company that has to pay those licensing fees for the Qualcomm modems they use, thought that sounded about right and decided to do a little suing of their own.
Apple filed a $1 billion suit against Qualcomm in January, claiming they were owed the money because of the ruling in South Korea. The spat’s been going on all year, and it’s aged well. The latest? Qualcomm is trying to get imports of the T-Mobile and AT&T iPhone X blocked — those don’t use Qualcomm’s modems, but Qualcomm is claiming that Apple is still using technology owned by Qualcomm without paying licensing fees or royalties. This beef, we can assure you, will stay on the grill through 2018.
So things haven’t really gotten ugly between Disney and Netflix, but be patient. This is the top beef prospect in the game right now — there’s real potential for ugliness in a year or two. This started with a conference call during the summer, when Disney revealed to investors that they will launch their own streaming service in 2019 to compete with Netflix. At the time, it was suggested that all things Disney — Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm — would be taken off Netflix by the end of 2018 in preparation for Disney’s service.
That’s not set in stone yet, but if Disney really is going to launch a streaming service to compete directly with Netflix, you can bet there are at least going to be fireworks between the two. That could leave the fates of current Marvel shows on Netflix like Jessica Jones in the lurch, too, so it’s a story to watch heading into 2018.
This is probably the wildest one. The others are mostly just cash disputes, with a dash of shenanigans in the Google vs Amazon spat. The fight between Uber and Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving car program), on the other hand, involves alleged corporate espionage! Waymo filed suit against Uber early in the year alleging that a former employee had stolen company secrets before founding his own company, which was later acquired by Uber.
It still hasn’t gone to trial, with new evidence continuing to trickle out — including some that the presiding judge seems to think Uber deliberately tried to hide. The evidence revealed in the course of the lawsuit also has suggested that Uber operated a division within the company dedicated to stealing trade secrets from other companies, so things could get worse for Uber when the trial finally starts in February, if it doesn’t get delayed again. Well, worse than they’ve already gotten, anyway.
Broadcom isn’t a name we hear often, but the chip designer has plenty of money and knows an opportunity when it sees one. With Qualcomm hurting because of all these antitrust suits and Apple’s onslaught, Broadcom tried to make a $100 billion bid for Qualcomm, one that Qualcomm rejected.
Normally this would be a boring one, but it got a little spicy recently! Broadcom doesn’t want to take no for an answer, so they’ve submitted their suggestions for a new, more amenable board of directors for Qualcomm investors to vote on — one that would approve the sale. It’s a classic hostile takeover move, and one that Qualcomm had a fun little response to in a press release this week. In response to the Broadcom move, Qualcomm said,
“Qualcomm believes that this action is a blatant attempt to seize control of the Qualcomm Board in order to advance Broadcom’s acquisition agenda. These nominees are inherently conflicted given Broadcom’s desire to acquire Qualcomm in a manner that dramatically undervalues Qualcomm to Broadcom’s benefit.”
Not mincing words!