Fortnite Maker Epic Wins Antitrust Case Against Google

Google has lost a monopoly case brought by Fortnite maker Epic Games that targeted the dominance of its Play Store on Android devices.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict in Epic’s favour on all counts on Monday in a federal court in San Francisco.

The verdict came just hours after closing arguments earlier in the day, after a trial that lasted more than a month.

In August 2020 Epic deliberately instituted its own payment methods for mobile versions of its products in circumvention of Apple and Google’s rules, after which Fortnite was removed from the Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Image credit: Unsplash

App store dominance

Epic then sued both companies over their control of app distribution on their respective platforms and the 30 percent commission fees they collect on most payments.

The game company largely lost a similar case against Apple in 2021, with the ruling upheld by an appeals court earlier this year. Epic is appealing that case to the US Supreme Court.

Unlike Apple, Google does not manufacture most Android smartphones itself, but rather licenses the operating system to electronics makers such as Samsung and LG.

Epic’s lawsuit targeted the contracts under which those manufacturers accepted a bundle of Google apps on the platform including the Play Store and agreed to give the store primary placement in return for a share of Google’s profits.

Image credit: Unsplash

Contracts

Android powers about 70 percent of smartphones worldwide and Epic says more than 95 percent of Android apps are distributed through the Play Store, which it says made an operating profit for Google of $12bn in 2021 alone.

Epic’s lawsuit also targeted Google’s deals with network operators such as AT&T and T-Mobile and game developers such as Activision Blizzard in which it argued Google essentially paid them off to prevent them from launching rivals to the Play Store.

Such actions ensured the Play Store remained the dominant app store on Android and that Google could continue charging its 30 percent commission fees, which Epic called excessive.

Last month Google chief executive Sundar Pichai testified in the case and defended Google’s actions.

‘Choice and openness’

Google argues its commissions are competitive for the industry and that they fund services such as added reach, transaction security and protection against malware.

Google vice president of government affairs and public policy Wilson White said Google would appeal the decision and argued that Android and Google Play provide “more choice and openness than any other major mobile platform”.

“The trial made clear that we compete fiercely with Apple and its App Store, as well as app stores on Android devices and gaming consoles,” he said

“We will continue to defend the Android business model and remain deeply committed to our users, partners, and the broader Android ecosystem.”

‘Need for legislation’

Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney said work on remedies would begin in January.

“The evidence presented in this case demonstrates the urgent need for legislation and regulations that address Apple and Google strangleholds over smartphones,” Epic said in a statement.

Google is currently facing a separate antitrust case brought by the US Department of Justice, with the evidentiary phase of that trial having concluded last month and closing arguments scheduled for 1 May, 2024.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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