EU Court Chucks $1.2B Antitrust Fine Against Intel

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The European Commission's antitrust regulator in 2009 fined Intel a record-breaking (at the time) €1.06 billion ($1.26 billion) fine for having abused its dominant position for x86 central processing units by implementing a strategy aimed at pushing competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc AMD, out of the market.

"The Court refers the case back to the General Court so that it may examine, in the light of the arguments put forward by Intel, whether the rebates at issue are capable of restricting competition", it said in its ruling.

In 2009, the European Union fined Intel 1.06 billion euros saying the chip maker used illegal sales tactics to shut out smaller rival AMD. The EC takes that view that Intel had tried to block rival chipmaker AMD by giving rebates to PC makers for buying most of their computer chips from Intel.

The court did reject Intel's arguments that the Commission had mishandled interview procedure and mischaracterised its exclusivity rebates with HP and Lenovo, but did not rule on other parts of the appeal. The verdict means Intel has escaped the original fine for now, although the case could drag on for many more years.

The General Court has been asked to further explore how Intel's customer rebates may have restricted competition. In a case similar to Intel's, Google was accused of abusing the dominance of its search engine to promote its own services at the expense of rivals.

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If the legal process ends up exonerating Intel it would mark the first major defeat for the Commission on anti-trust fines.

It could also give dominant companies more freedom over how they offer rebates and discounts. The EU also said Intel made payments to electronics retailer Media Saturn Holding on the condition that it only sold computers containing Intel's microprocessors.

The court turned down the appeal in 2014, prompting Intel to take its case to the EU's highest judicial authority, the Court of Justice.

The CJEU has now ruled that the General Court was obliged to consider Intel's arguments on the point and to determine whether the Commission had applied the "as efficient competitor" (AEC) test correctly.

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