Court orders Intel case review in European Union antitrust blow

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Europe's top court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), has ordered a lower-court to re-examine the United States chipmaker Intel's appeal against a 1.06-billion-euro EU antitrust fine for abuse of a dominant position.

The regulator said Intel broke European Union competition rules when it granted rebated to major computer manufacturers - Dell, Lenovo, HP and NEC - on the condition that purchased all their x86 CPUs from Intel, thus diminishing the ability of competitors to compete.

On Wednesday, the CJEU said the General Court had failed to properly examine the issue of whether the rebates did actually stifle competition. It's not clear yet if the ECJ's decision will have any impact on this case, or indeed any cases going forward, but it nonetheless represents a victory for American technology companies which claim they are unfairly targeted by European antitrust regulators. 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.

Meanwhile, Wednesday's ECJ ruling rejected Intel's claim that the Commission had acted outside its jurisdiction.

The chipmaker's long-running battle to overturn the $1.06bn fine it received from the ECJ in 2009 - following allegations from rival AMD that it used funds to coerce PC builders into favouring Intel inside - took a new twist yesterday as the case was batted down to a lower court for additional scrutiny.


In its 2009 ruling, the Commission found that Intel, with a market share of 70 percent, had granted rebates to Dell, HP, Lenovo and NEC in return for them putting Intel x86 processors into nearly all of their PCs. It was superseded by the $2.7 billion antitrust fine the European regulatory body imposed on Google in June.

The Commission had imposed the fine in May 2009 claiming that the U.S. manufacturing giant which employs thousands of people in Leixlip, had abused its dominant position in the microchip market.

Intel welcomed the ruling.

This morning the court kept the appeal against the fine alive by sending it back to the General Court.

Experts say that the decision this week to review the fine could give tech companies hope their own penalties could see the same fate and that they could ultimately be awarded appeals.

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