US chipmaker Intel has scored a legal victory in a battle against the EU Competition Commission after a court scrapped a billion dollar antitrust fine imposed more than a decade ago.
An EU court has annulled a $1.2 billion (1.06 billion euro) fine against US chipmaker Intel, finding that Brussels had failed to adequately prove anti-competitive practices in a key aspect of the case.
The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court came on Wednesday,12 years after the original fine and could face a fresh appeal to the EU's highest court by the European Commission.
The EU'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," the court said.
The commission, the EU's antitrust enforcer, is facing similar appeals in its blockbuster competition cases against Google in procedures that could also drag on for a decade or longer.
"We welcome today’s ruling by the General Court as we have always believed that our actions regarding rebates were lawful and did not harm competition," Intel said in a statement.
"The semiconductor industry has never been more competitive than it is today and we look forward to continuing to invest and grow in Europe," it added.
Over 20 years
Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition chief, said the commission would study the judgement "in detail" and seek the "balance between the things we won and the things we lost".
Agustin Reyna, of the Brussels-based European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said the ruling was "disappointing, as we believe Intel engaged in anti-competitive behaviour which limited consumer choice".
"But it is even more striking that it has taken over twenty years for a decision," he said.
The rejection was the third EU court decision in the case. The same court had upheld the fine in 2014, but three years later the higher European Court of Justice told the General Court to revisit its decision.
The commission in 2009 slapped the then-record fine on Intel after saying the company had offered clients price rebates to use its own computer chips in preference to rival AMD.
The EU's case was based on alleged malpractice between 2002 and 2007, but the origins of the case go as far back as 2000 when complaints against Intel were first lodged at the commission.
The legal labyrinth faced by such antitrust decisions has pushed the EU to pursue a Digital Markets Act, a major law currently under negotiation which would set strict rules on how Big Tech can do business in Europe.