Intel scores huge antitrust fine win in EU’s second highest court

In a significant development, Intel won a landmark $1.2 billion (1.06-billion euro) antitrust fine from the European Union with the Europe’s top court ruling in favour of Intel’s arguments.

The ruling by the court is likely to cheer Alphabet’s Google as it fights against hefty EU antitrust fines; Apple, Amazon and Facebook, are also on the EU antitrust enforcer’s crosshairs.

In 2009, the European Commission had penalized Intel for trying to block Advanced Micro Devices, a rival, by giving rebates to computer makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co, NEC and Lenovo for sourcing most of their chips from Intel.

Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe’s second-highest, has criticized the EU competition enforcer’s analysis and has annulled the fine.

“The (European) Commission’s analysis 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, anticompetitive effects,” ruled judges.

The court’s ruling annulled the entire article of the contested decision which imposed a fine of 1.06 billion euros on Intel for the infringement.

The Commission said it would study the judgment and reflect on the possible next steps.

In 2014, the same court had upheld the Commission’s 2009 decision but the EU’s Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court, told it to re-examine Intel’s appeal in 2017.

Regulators typically do not like rebates, especially those offered by dominant players since they are typically anti-competitive. Companies have argued that regulators must prove rebates have anti-competitive effects before sanctioning them.

The ruling will complicate the regulator’s task, opined Assimakis Komninos, a partner at law firm White & Case.

“This is a huge victory for Intel. It sets the bar higher for the Commission in bringing dominance cases. It will have to do an effects-based analysis for each case. This will have an impact on all companies,” said Komninos.

The ruling can be appealed to the CJEU.

The case is T-286/09 P Intel Corporation v Commission. ($1 = 0.8861 euros)

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