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Industrial Policy

European Commission appeals Intel antitrust case to top court

The European Commission said Wednesday that it appealed the EU General Court’s annulment of its €1.06 billion antitrust fine on U.S. chip maker Intel to the bloc’s highest court.

“The Commission has decided to appeal to the European Court of Justice the General Court judgment of 26 January 2022,” an EU spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Brussels on January 26 suffered a crushing defeat at the lower court in the long legal battle with Intel. The General Court’s ruling was a painful setback for EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager, as the Commission hadn’t lost a big antitrust case in more than 20 years. 

In 2009, the EU’s competition arm fined the U.S. firm for abusing its dominance in the market for x86 processors between October 2002 and December 2007. The company engaged in illegal anti-competitive practices to exclude its main rival at the time, the Commission said, by offering illegal rebates and payments to computer makers and retailers not to use products produced by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

The EU’s lower court had in 2014 dismissed the U.S. chipmaker’s initial appeal — a judgment that was overruled in 2017 by the European Court of Justice, which referred the case back to the General Court to examine Intel’s arguments.

The Commission did not give any further details on its legal arguments to escalate the case to the ECJ.

The General Court in its January decision faulted the Commission’s evaluation of Intel’s actions in the case. “The 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, anti-competitive effects,” the court said in its ruling.

The ultimate outcome of the Intel case may have an impact on other competition cases, including Vestager’s €4.34 billion fine on Google for abusing the dominance of its Android operating system. That was the largest-ever antitrust fine ever imposed by Brussels.

Google’s exclusivity contracts meant that the search giant shared part of its search revenues with companies that agreed to exclusively pre-install Google search across their portfolio of Android devices. This is one of the types of agreements that allowed Google to bolster its dominance in search, according to the Commission.

Pietro Lombardi contributed reporting.

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