Qualcomm Victory After EU Court Annuls 997m Euros Antitrust Fine

Qualcomm has scored a major victory, after it successfully overturned a mammoth antitrust fine from the European Commission.

Back in 2018, the European Commission decided that Qualcomm (between 2011 to 2016) paid billions of dollars to Apple to use only its chips in all its iPhones and iPads in order to block rivals such as Intel.

The EC decided to fine Qualcomm $1.04 billion (€997 million) over that matter, but now Reuters has reported that the Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe’s second highest court, has nullified that ruling, and even faulted the EU competition enforcer over its handling of the case.

Court ruling

“A number of procedural irregularities affected Qualcomm’s rights of defence and invalidate the Commission’s analysis of the conduct alleged against Qualcomm,” the judges were quoted as saying.

“The Commission did not provide an analysis which makes it possible to support the findings that the payments concerned had actually reduced Apple’s incentives to switch to Qualcomm’s competitors in order to obtain supplies of LTE chipsets for certain iPad models to be launched in 2014 and 2015,” they reportedly said.

The European Commission can appeal on matters of law to the EU Court of Justice (CJEU), Europe’s highest court.

But it said it would carefully study the judgement and its implications and consider its next steps.

Qualcomm did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, Reuters reported.

Second setback

The court ruling is the second major setback to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager’s crackdown on big tech firms.

Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission

In January the European Commission suffered its first significant setback when Intel successfully appealed against a €1.06 billion ($1.2 billion) antitrust fine issued in 2009, when EC officials accused Intel of abusing its market position by trying to block rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) by giving rebates to Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co, NEC and Lenovo to buy Intel chips.

Intel appealed against the decision for 12 years, arguing that the EC ruling was fundamentally flawed.

In January this year the EU General Court agreed, and it also criticised the EU competition enforcer’s analysis, and annulled the fine.

Now the European Commission has been handed a second annulment, and yet more criticism, which places more pressure on Margrethe Vestager, who has also previously fined Google on three separate issues.

The EC and Vestager are also currently investigating Apple, Amazon and Meta (Facebook).

Vestager’s next test is on 14 September when the General Court will rule on Google’s challenge against a record 4.34 billion euro antitrust fine levied for using its Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals.

In May this year Margrethe Vestager warned there was still plenty of antitrust work still to undertake.

The European Commission also recently confirmed it will evaluate its antitrust enforcement framework, in order to ensure it is fit for the digital age.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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