The European Union’s second highest court has ruled in favor of Qualcomm (PDF) and has scrapped a 2018 European Commission decision to slap the company with a € 997 million ($ 1.05 billion) fine. Back in 2018, the Commission said Qualcomm abused its market dominance in LTE baseband chipsets by paying Apple billions of dollars from 2011 to 2016 to exclusively use its chips in iPhones and iPads. That allegedly prevented rivals, such as Intel, from striking deals with the iPhone-maker. Now, the General Court has annulled “in its entirety, the Commission decision.”
In its announcement, the General Court said it based its decision on two factors. First is that it found a “number of procedural irregularities” that affected Qualcomm’s right of defense. The Commission apparently failed to record the precise content of meetings and conference calls with third parties in connection with the case as it was required to do so. Further, it based its decision on Qualcomm’s alleged abuse of market dominance for LTE chipsets alone, even though the case’s statement of objections also mentioned its abuse of position when it comes to Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) chipsets.
The General Court has also found that while Qualcomm’s payments reduced Apple’s incentives to use other companies’ products, there were no viable alternatives to its LTE chipsets for iPhones at the time anyway. It has also decided that there was no sufficient evidence to determine whether Qualcomm’s payments prevented Apple from using other companies’ chipsets for its iPad models released in 2014 and 2015.
This is the second fine imposed by the European Commission against big tech companies that the General Court has scrapped. In January, the court also overturned the € 1.06 billion fine the Commission levied against Intel. Similar to this particular case, the Commission accused Intel of abusing its dominant position in the market by offering manufacturers such as HP, Dell and Lenovo incentives for using its microprocessors instead of those from rival AMD’s.
Qualcomm’s fight might not be over, though. As Reuters notes, the Commission can still file an appeal with Europe’s highest court. Indeed, it told the publication that it will study the court’s judgment closely before deciding on its next steps.
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