FRANKFURT, Germany — Back in 2009, European antitrust regulators handed Intel a very bitter pill — a $1.3 billion-dollar fine for incentivizing computer makers to choose their devices over competitor AMD's with what the European Commission felt were inappropriate rebates that could be interpreted as bribes to the companies involved. Intel has been aggressively fighting that ruling ever since.
A European Union appeals court on Wednesday (Sept. 6) — while not directly exonerating the company — dealt a major blow to the case by referring the decision back to a lower court and asking it to re-evaluate the fine — a strong signal that winds have shifted in Intel's favor.
An earlier appeals court ruling in the summer of 2014 had upheld the original decision. That ruling was seen then as a rebuke to Intel and a sign to the community that no company is above the rulings of the court. This tossing back to a lower court of the case has completely reversed the momentum previously created, throwing the outcome of the case back into uncertainty.
"The lengthy appeals process took a major step in Intel’s favor today, with the ruling that the General Court should have considered whether Intel’s pricing practices were capable of harming competition," wrote Steve Rogers, Intel executive vice president and general counsel, in a blog post on the company's website. "The court sent the case back to the General Court for reassessment in light of its holding."
Not only has this move made the final status of the now $1.5 billion-plus (exchange rates and inflation) fine uncertain, it also emboldens other companies now sparring with the EU in trade court, chief among them Google, who was recently fined around $2.5 billion dollars for antitrust activity stemming from its dominance of the search industry. Intel’s success, if nothing else, gives other entities hope to evade Brussel’s regulatory scalpel.
— Alix Paultre is a European correspondent for EE Times.