Intel finds ally in EU antitrust case

Intel’s fight against a €1.06 billion ($1.2 billion) antitrust fine from the European Union (EU) got a boost Thursday when a top court advisor in Europe pointed out errors in the EU regulators’ economic analysis.

The dispute started in 2009 when the European Commission penalized Intel for attempting to impede a competitor, Advanced Micro Devices, by giving rebates to Dell, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, and Lenovo for favoring Intel’s chips. The Intel decision is one in a series of increasing antitrust actions in Europe targeting technology companies.

Regulators usually challenge rebates from leading companies due to their potential to restrict competition. However, companies have argued that authorities should demonstrate how these discounts are anti-competitive before imposing sanctions. In 2022, a subordinate court overturned the fine, prompting the EU competition commissioner to seek a review from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg.

CJEU Advocate General Laila Medina said in a statement that the court should dismiss the appeal. Medina cited issues with the commission’s “as-efficient competitor” test, designed to determine whether a company’s pricing was unfairly competitive compared to rivals with similar costs.

The advocates general of the CJEU have an unusual role, providing independent, non-binding legal opinions on cases that the judges may then take into account in arriving at their decisions. 

Medina added, “…first, the General Court failed to have due regard to the Commission’s margin of discretion in complex economic matters. Second, it failed to take into account Intel’s implicit acknowledgment of the reference period during the administrative proceedings. Third, it infringed the Commission’s right of defense. Fourth, the General Court erred in relation to the appropriate conclusion to be drawn in respect of the entire period of the practice at issue.”

The Intel ruling comes after a number of efforts meant to ensure fair competition in the EU. Google, owned by Alphabet, said this week, for example, that it will modify its online search results to better highlight comparison websites. The change is part of its efforts to adhere to new EU tech regulations under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which goes into effect in March.

According to the DMA, the company must rank rival services and products on an equal footing with its own in search results.

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