Counter-order, no (almost) billionaire fine against Qualcomm, the US multinational active in the production of computer programs and, above all, chips for cell phones. The EU Tribunal overturns the decision by which the European Commission, in 2018, imposed a fine of 997 million euros on the stars and stripes giant for abuse of dominant position.
Brussels accuses Qualcomm of preventing rivals from competing in the market by making significant payments to a key customer as long as it did not buy from rivals. A behavior that is detrimental to competition, and which calls into question Apple. The agreement signed in 2011 between the two groups is contested, according to which Qualcomm undertook to make “significant payments” to the apple company on the condition that the latter used only Qualcomm chipsets in its “iPhone” and “iPad” devices . An agreement renewed in 2013 until 2016.
The Luxembourg judges, today, are not so much dismissing the accusation of the Community executive, but they are challenging the conduct of the European Commission. Qualcomm’s “various procedural irregularities affecting the rights of the defense” were found. Specifically, the Community Antitrust would not have collected the information relating to the open file as it should have. He did not carry out research and verifications of the case, “he did not fully comply with the obligation as regards, in particular, the conduct of meetings and telephone conferences with third parties”.
Then there is the technical-industrial aspect that induces the Court to reject the request for a fine “in full”. Because, the Luxembourg judges note, it is true that Qualcomm has entered into relations with Apple for the supply of LTE chipsets, both for iPhones and for iPads, but “from the Commission’s decision it appears that Apple had no technical alternatives to LTE chipsets of Qualcomm for most of its requirements during the period considered. ” In essence, Apple would not have been able to find alternatives to the technology products it needed from suppliers other than Qualcomm. The Commission therefore “failed to take into consideration all the relevant factual circumstances”. The analysis of the then Juncker Commission “is vitiated by illegitimacy”.
The von der Leyen Commission has two months and ten days to appeal to the Court against the Court’s ruling. In the meantime, however, Brussels makes a bad impression.