Top European court's ruling might embolden U.S. tech companies to challenge regulators

Top European court's ruling might embolden U.S. tech companies to challenge regulators

It boosts Intel's hopes of overturning a €1.06bn fine and will also buoy the hopes of other United States tech firms including Apple, that have been in sights of the Competition Commission, now headed by Margrethe Vestager. It was superseded by the $2.7 billion antitrust fine the European regulatory body imposed on Google in June.

Intel appealed, but the fine was upheld in 2014. "While the Intel case is about rebates, all major corporates being investigated by the commission can take this as a positive sign". Google has said it is considering an appeal. Intel has been appealing this fine for years and now the European Court of Justice has ordered that the case be revisited in a lower court.

Intel was given a boost yesterday when Europe's top court sent the EU's antitrust regulators case against the United States chipmaker back to court for an appeal.

The EU's investigation found that Intel hindered competition by giving rebates to computer makers from 2002 until 2005 if they bought at least 95 percent of PC chips from Intel.

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"The commission takes note of today's ruling by the European Court of Justice and will study the judgment carefully", the commission said.

According to the Commission, Intel had engaged in anti-competitive practices, specifically using rebates and payments to induce four manufacturers (Dell, HP, Lenovo and NEC) and Media-Saturn to buy its x86 CPU chip, and therefore diminished the ability of Intel's competitors to compete. This is after Intel's previous appeal attempts failed, with an European Union court upholding the fine as recently as 2014. In 2009, evidence showed that the company had offered rebates and incentives to computer makers to favor their products over their rival, Advanced Micro Devices. "The court sent the case back to the General Court for reassessment in light of its holding".

Ioannis Lianos, a competition law professor at University College London, tells us the reality of the Intel case's effects on future proceedings is not clear since the wording in the ECJ ruling is "ambiguous".

Whilst the Commission had emphasised that the rebates at issue were by their very nature capable of restricting competition, such that an "AEC test" was not necessary, the CJEU noted that the Commission nevertheless "carried out an in-depth examination of those circumstances", setting out "a very detailed analysis of the AEC test".

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