Intel Corp. has won its appeal in the European Court of Justice against a 1.06 bln eur ($1.26 bln) EU antitrust fine, issued in 2009. Its case has now been referred back to a lower court, much to the chagrin of EU antitrust regulators who had chosen to play hard ball with the US tech mega corp.
The concern for EU regulators is that this decision will now act as a catalyst for other big players to litigate against the European Commission over competition decisions.
The Intel case centres on whether a dominant company in any industry can be deemed to have abused its commercial power by offering rebates to business customers, in a move to retain their market position.
In 2009 the commission argued the chip maker had violated the its antitrust rules because dominant companies’ use of rebates are, by their nature, restrictive of competition.
However, the European Court of Justice said in a statement that the lower court had failed to examine whether Intel’s rebates to other companies actually restricted competition. The ruling, therefore, signals that dominant companies’ use of rebates should not automatically be assumed problematic. It doesn’t take much to realise that this decision could pose a real headache for regulators; it may ultimately mean they have to prove, in each case pursued, that the rebate measures offered cause economic harm.
While the commission argued the company’s rebates were by their nature anticompetitive, it also argued it had carried out an in-depth analysis of the circumstances, proving the rebate scheme was capable of shutting out a rival.
Steven Rodgers, the company’s general counsel said Intel welcomed the ruling: “While this case concerns events that happened more than a decade ago, we have always believed that our actions were lawful and did not harm competition,” he said .
In June, 2017, EU antitrust investigators levied a record 2.42 bln eur fine against Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, for abusing its market position with its shopping service; Google has announced it is considering an appeal.
Meanwhile, an up-and-coming test case will be regulator’s antitrust investigation into Qualcomm Inc., which it has accused of illegally paying Apple Inc. to exclusively use its chips, and selling chips below cost to force competitor, Icera Inc., out of the market.
On the back of the ECJ announcement the commission said :”The commission takes note of today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice and will study the judgment carefully… It is now for the general court to review the commission decision under the framework set out by today’s judgment.”