EU appeals overturned $1.2b Intel antitrust fine

12 years on, rebates-for-not-using-AMD-chips case isn't over yet...


The European Commission (EC) is going ahead with an appeal against a court decision earlier this year to drop a $1.2 billion fine imposed against Intel for anti-competitive behavior.

The case stretches back many years and concerns deals between Intel and some system vendors to favor Intel chips over those from rivals such as AMD.

A spokesperson for the EC confirmed to The Register that it has decided to file an appeal against the General Court judgment of 26 January, which found Intel was no longer required to pay an approximate $1.15 billion fine imposed by the EC for anti-competitive behaviour.

The fine dates back to 2009, when the EC found Intel guilty of illegal behavior involving rebates on Intel technology awarded to PC manufacturers including Dell, HP and Lenovo to use its chips instead of those made by rival AMD. The court found that this had been taking place between October 2002 and December 2007, but AMD had complained as far back as 2000 and again in 2003 that Intel was engaging in anti-competitive conduct.

Intel had also apparently been making payments to a massive German electronics retailer, Media Saturn Holding, to only offer computers for sale with Intel chips inside.

At the time, the penalty was the largest of its kind imposed by the EC for a vendor's abuse of market dominance.

However, Intel did not take the decision lying down, appealing in 2012, and has been trying to get the ruling overturned ever since.

In 2014, an appeal by Intel to have the decision annulled or to reduce the amount of the fine imposed on it by the Commission was rejected by the European Court of Justice's General Court, which affirmed the EC arguments and upheld the fine.

Intel then appealed to the European Court of Justice, which sent the case back to the General Court for reconsideration in 2017.

This appeal centred on an argument from Intel that the EC had not properly applied tests for determining if the rebates and payments had in fact restricted competition. The court agreed that the earlier process had not properly considered the competitive effects of the rebates and returned the case for another look.

"In its analysis of whether the rebates at issue were capable of restricting competition, the General Court wrongly failed to take into consideration Intel's line of argument seeking to expose alleged errors committed by the Commission in the AEC test," the January 22 judgement declared [PDF].

The AEC, or as-efficient competitor test, is to demonstrate that harm has occurred if a competitor that is as efficient as the dominant company cannot match the dominant company's offering, as The Register explained at the time.

The culmination of that latter appeal was the decision in January this year by the General Court to annul the EC antitrust penalty.

Intel welcomed that decision, stating at the time that it had always believed that its conduct regarding rebates was lawful and had not harmed competition.

Following the ruling, the EC said that it needed to consider what should happen next, and now it has decided to appeal, the long-running saga goes on.

We contacted Intel for its reaction to the EC appeal but the company was not immediately available to comment. ®

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