In a major setback for EU antitrust regulators, the General Court of EU Wednesday overturned the €1.06 billion ($1.2 billion) fine imposed on Intel almost 13 years ago for abuse of market dominance and stifling competition.
In 2009, the European Commission found that the US chip-maker had abused its position in the market for x86 processors and had engaged in anti-competitive conduct by offering rebates to Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and NEC, conditional on them purchasing all or most of their chips from Intel. Accordingly, the Commission had imposed a hefty fine on Intel.
The decision of the Commission was brought by Intel before the General Court, which was dismissed in its entirety in 2014. Thereafter, in 2017, on an appeal by Intel, the Court of Justice set aside the 2014 judgment and referred the matter to be heard again by the General Court.
In the present case, the General Court in Luxembourg criticized the Commission’s analysis, stating that it is incomplete and “does not make it possible to establish to the requisite legal standard that the rebates at issue were capable of having, or likely to have (an) anticompetitive effect.”
The General Court ruled that “it annuls in its entirety the article of the contested decision which imposes on Intel a fine of €1.06 billion in respect of the infringement found.” The decision of the General Court is appealable before the Court of Justice, however, the Commission has yet to decide whether it wants to proceed with an appeal.
The decision is likely to offer a glimmer of hope to the other tech giants – the likes of Apple, Alphabet’s Google, Meta, and Amazon, which have been caught in EU regulator’s crosshairs of late.