Europe’s second highest court, the General Court, has on the side of Qualcomm after it appealed a €997 million (about $1,045 million) fine from European Union regulators for payments to Apple to use Qualcomm chips, Reuters reports† The EU imposed the fine in 2018, saying payments Qualcomm made to Apple between 2011 and 2016 to solely use its chips were illegal under EU antitrust rules.
“This meant that no rival could effectively challenge Qualcomm in this market, no matter how good their products were,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement accompanying the fine. Qualcomm was accused of forcing out rival chipmaker Intel by making it too expensive for Apple to switch suppliers.
But in today’s ruling, the European Court of Justice said that “a number of procedural irregularities have affected Qualcomm’s rights of defense and invalidate the Commission’s analysis of the conduct alleged against Qualcomm”. Reuters reports. The court also questioned the EU’s competitive analysis, noting that “During the period under consideration, Apple had not had a technical alternative to Qualcomm’s LTE chipsets for the majority of its needs” and that “the Commission failed to take into account all relevant factual circumstances.”
EU regulators now have the option to appeal the decision to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).
When the fine was handed out, Vestager said: that it should serve as a warning to other tech companies considering using similar practices. The decision is a major blow to the EU’s efforts to regulate the rapidly changing and well-funded technology sector.