Updated from 4:20 p.m. ET

Qualcomm

(QCOM) - Get Report

on Tuesday became the latest company to launch a venture capital unit, saying it would commit $500 million to

Qualcomm Ventures

for investment over four years to push its CDMA (code division multiple access) technology.

Investments will be made in startup companies that support the adoption of CDMA and "make the wireless Internet a success," said Jeff Jacobs, Qualcomm's senior vice president of business development who'll direct the unit. Those areas include communications devices and applications; wireless communications components and infrastructure; and Internet infrastructure, content and services.

The company's investments will average $10 million, mostly in early-to-midstage private ventures, officials say.

Qualcomm, which uses its CDMA technology in chipsets for mobile phones and licenses the technology, isn't new to the investing game. "Qualcomm has been an active investor for a few years now and they are just formalizing their venture strategy," Barry says. Past investments include

Handspring

(HAND)

, maker of the

Visor

handheld computer;

Haht Commerce

, an e-commerce management software concern which filed to go public last week; and

Phone.com

(PHCM)

, a maker of software for wireless access to the Internet.

There already are about 350 corporate venture arms worldwide, with 300 of them in the U.S., says Dave Barry, senior editor of

Corporate Venturing Report

, a Wellesley, Mass.-based newsletter. Most were established in the last two years.

Qualcomm's strategy largely mirrors that of companies such as

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, whose

Intel Capital

unit makes investments in a bid to boost the use of the company's technology.

For many of these companies a monetary return, the usual goal of venture capital firms, is less of a concern. "Our priority is the strategic return," Jacobs noted, though he said that financial returns are important.

In addition, many corporate venture arms are relatively small, especially in light of the billion dollar funds recently raised by venture capital houses.

Ericsson Venture Partners

-- set up with money from wireless giant

Ericsson

(ERICY)

, investment bank

Merrill Lynch

and Swedish conglomerates

Investor AB

and

AB Industrivarden

-- was

seeded with $300 million in August.

Palm Ventures

began life in September with $50 million from its parent

Palm

(PALM)

, maker of the popular

Palm Pilot

.

There are exceptions, of course.

Chase Capital Partners

is a venture capital firm in the traditional mold. Backed primarily by

Chase Manhattan

(CMB)

, it manages a $20 billion portfolio. (Chase Capital has invested in

TheStreet.com

(TSCM)

, publisher of this Web site.)

"If you look at Chase, you can make the argument that Chase is a public venture capital fund that happens to be in the business of commercial lending," says Joseph Bartlett, a lawyer with

Morrison & Foerster

, a law firm that works on deals for venture capital houses, and the author of

Fundamentals of Venture Capital

.

The bottom lines of Chase, Intel and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, among others,

benefited from these venture units when the market was climbing. But with the

Nasdaq

sliding, despite Tuesday's advance, companies will have a tougher time generating returns that'll help earnings. Chase, for instance, already has seen the market's

weakness affect its results.