Qualcomm is Apple’s supplier of LTE and 5G chips. In 2018, the EU antitrust commission found that Qualcomm paid billions of dollars to Apple to procure its connectivity chips for iPhone and iPad from 2011 to 2016 and ruled it an anti-competitive act that had harmed other LTE chipmakers like Intel.
The Commission imposed a $997 million euro ($991 million) fine on the manufacturer. Despite the evidence recording payments made to the iPhone maker, Qualcomm appealed the EU Commission’s ruling in General Court, the second-highest court in Europe which has now overturned the previous judgment.
General Court of Europe ruled EU didn’t prove its case against Qualcomm
According to Reuters, the court found several procedural discrepancies in the handling of the case by the EU Commission and failed to prove that Qualcomm’s payments to Apple impacted the Cupertino tech giant’s decision to award the contract to the U.S. chipmaker.
“A number of procedural irregularities affected Qualcomm’s rights of defence and invalidate the Commission’s analysis of the conduct alleged against Qualcomm,” judges said.
“The Commission did not provide an analysis which makes it possible to support the findings that the payments concerned had actually reduced Apple’s incentives to switch to Qualcomm’s competitors in order to obtain supplies of LTE chipsets for certain iPad models to be launched in 2014 and 2015,” they said.
The court also allowed the EU competition the right to the matter at the EU Court of Justice (CJEU), Europe’s highest court.
The chipmaker’s victory over the EU is called a “major setback to EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager’s crackdown on Big Tech” because the Commission has already lost a case over imposing a billion-dollar fine on Intel. The judgments against the Commission’s findings raise questions about its motives.
This is the second major defeat for Vestager who in January lost the court’s backing for a 1.06 billion euro fine on Intel 12 years ago for squeezing rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD.O).
Vestager’s next test is on Sept. 14 when the General Court will rule on Google’s challenge against a record 4.34 billion euro antitrust fine levied for using its Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals.