Qualcomm came out victorious this morning after the chipmaker won its battle against a €997m (£862m) fine imposed by EU antitrust regulators four years ago, raising eyebrows for the bloc’s ongoing curbing US Big Tech dominance.
The fine was imposed by European Commission after the US firm paid billions of dollars to Apple to use only Qualcomm chips in all its iPhones and iPads: hindering rivals like Intel Corp from 2011 to 2016 .
In a blow to Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager’s emerging regimem, Europe’s second-highest court annulled the 2018 EU finding and questioned its handling of the case on a process level,
“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,” the General Court said.
A Qualcomm spokesperson told City A.M this evening: “We are pleased with the General Court’s decision.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The European Commission takes note of today’s judgement by the General Court that annulled the Commission’s 2018 Decision which found that Qualcomm had abused its dominant position.”
“The Commission will carefully study the judgement and its implications and will reflect on possible next steps”.
While the EU enforcer can now appeal to the Court of Justice, the decision is a signal that there may be a tempering on European intervention.
Back in January, Intel won its own appeal against a hefty €1bn fine handed to the company 12 years ago. The court criticised the analysis made by the Commission on this specific case.
White & Case partner Assimakis Komninos in Brussels said that this decision “sets the bar higher” for the Commission when bringing cases
The decision wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last that Margrethe Vestager rage against US dominance is tempered.
As White & Case legal wonk Assimakis Komninos explained, the latest blow is a “rather painful ” for the Commission, not only criticising the substance but also the procedure behind the decision: not giving the firm the opportunity to be properly heard.
Aside from the recent Intel blow, the General Court also backed Apple in its $15bn row over claimed illegal tax benefits in Ireland, while Google is waiting to hear back about appeals over Commission antitrust decisions.
Despite setbacks, Adform’s Philip Acton told City A.M. that it is key that Big Tech is still “kept on their toes”, adding that the EU will evitably “win some and lose some”.