The judges said that “procedural irregularities” had impacted Qualcomm’s ability to defend itself and therefore undermined the Commission’s decision to fine the chipmaker
Back in 2018, the EU issued Qualcomm a fine of €997 million in a move that was widely viewed as flagship victory for the regulators over ‘big tech’.
Now, however, Europe’s second-highest court, the General Court, has overturned this decision, saying that "a number of procedural irregularities affected Qualcomm’s rights of defence and invalidate the Commission’s analysis of the conduct alleged against Qualcomm."
The case itself relates to payments of billions of dollars Qualcomm made to Apple between 2011 and 2016 to incentivise the smartphone-maker to use its 4G chips. The EU regulators said that these payments constituted a breach in antitrust law, essentially blocking rivals like Intel from winning business from Apple.
Upon the ruling’s announcement, Qualcomm immediately vowed to challenge the decision in court, the results of which we are now hearing today.
“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,” said the court, explaining its decision.
The EU competition enforcer has said it will carefully review the court’s decision before deciding whether to appeal it at the EU Court of Justice.
The EU has been trying to crackdown on major US tech firms for many years now, hitting the giants with numerous antitrust fines in recent years. As such, this ruling comes as a major setback for Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s hard-line approach to antitrust regulation, who also saw a ruling overturned back in January relating to a €1 billion fine of Qualcomm’s rival, Intel.