Europe’s second-highest court, the General Court, has sided with Qualcomm after it appealed a €997 million (around $1,045 million) fine from European Union regulators over payments made to Apple to use Qualcomm chips, Reuters reports. The EU issued the fine in 2018, and said payments Qualcomm had made to Apple between 2011 and 2016 to exclusively 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,” said EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement accompanying the fine. Qualcomm was accused of shutting rival chipmaker Intel out of the market, by making it too expensive for Apple to switch suppliers.
But in today’s ruling, the European General Court said that “a number of procedural irregularities affected Qualcomm’s rights of defence and invalidate the Commission’s analysis of the conduct alleged against Qualcomm,” Reuters reports. The court also cast doubt on the EU’s competition analysis, noting that “Apple had had no technical alternative to Qualcomm’s LTE chipsets for the majority of its requirements during the period concerned” and that “the Commission failed to take account of all of the relevant factual circumstances.”
EU regulators now have the option of appealing the decision to the EU Court of Justice (CJEU).
When the fine was issued, Vestager said that it should serve as a warning to other tech companies considering using similar practices. The decision represents a major blow to the EU’s attempts to regulate the fast-moving and well-financed tech sector.