Intel claims a victory against EU over €1bn antitrust fine after ECJ ruling

Lynsey Barber
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Intel has been fighting the EU for years (Source: Getty)

Intel has claimed a victory in its decade-long dispute with competition authorities in Brussels.

Europe's top court has today referred an antitrust case which was seeking to impose a €1bn fine on the tech company back to a lower court to be reviewed.

The penalty - the biggest ever imposed by the EU competition commission at the time - was handed out in 2009 after an investigation concluded Intel blocked rivals from the chip market and abused its dominant position.

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After years of legal wrangling the European Court of Justice today ruled the case must be considered again, as the general court failed "in its analysis of whether the rebates at issue were capable of restricting competition".

"The court refers the case back to the general court so that it may examine, in the light of the arguments put forward by Intel, whether the rebates at issue are capable of restricting competition," it concluded.

The judgement is expected to fuel confidence among other US tech companies, such as Google, fighting Brussels in antitrust cases.

“This is certainly a defeat for the European Commission and indicates a certain relaxation of the formalistic case law on abuse of dominance," said partner at law form White & Case, Assimakis Komninos.

“This is a very short judgment, just 20 pages long despite taking three years to produce. Short judgments signal a ruling based on a matter of principle, especially if rendered by the Grand Chamber of the ECJ like here, which means this is particularly encouraging for other big companies facing competition investigations. While the Intelcase is about rebates, all major corporates being investigated by the European Commission can take this as a positive sign."

Google is facing the latest record-breaking fine from the EU in relation to competition. It slapped Google with a record-breaking €2.4bn fine in June for favouring its own shopping results in search results. It last week submitted details of how it intends to amend its results which it has until the end of September to do.

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And the tech company is bracing itself for an even larger fine in relation to its Android operating system which some analysts estimate could surpass $6bn. Competition chief Margrethe Vestager last year found it broke competition rules by favouring its own search, something Google has argued it does not do.

A third investigation is taking place into Google's Adsense search advertising product. Meanwhile, chip maker Qualcomm is also embroiled in two separate probes with Brussels.

And Apple was ordered to pay a €13bn tax bill to Ireland after it was ruled that a so-called sweetheart deal the two forged, agreeing the amount it should pay, amounted to state aid. Both Apple and Ireland are appealing.

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