By Jan Wolfe and Mike Scarcella
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge did not call Apple Inc an “illegal monopolist” on Friday, but the closely watched decision provides a roadmap for similar claims against the iPhone maker going forward, officials said. legal experts.
Speaking on an antitrust case brought by Epic Games, creator of the online game “Fortnite”, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said Epic failed to present sufficient evidence that Apple held illegal monopoly power in the relevant market, which it defined as “digital mobile”. gambling transactions. “
But the California judge made it clear that the ruling was limited to the facts before it.
“While the Court finds that Apple enjoys a sizable market share of over 55% and extraordinarily high profit margins, these factors alone do not point to antitrust conduct,” said Gonzalez Rogers. “The Court does not find that to be impossible; only that Epic Games has failed to demonstrate that Apple is an illegal monopolist.”
The judge found that Apple’s rules on its lucrative App Store business violated California state competition laws.
Whether Apple has abused monopoly power “remains very open,” said Joshua Paul Davis, professor of antitrust law at the University of San Francisco School of Law.
“Given the current controversy over these issues, I would expect this not to be the last word,” he said.
In his ruling, Gonzalez Rogers noted that Epic Games had “overtaken” in a lawsuit earlier this year when trying to define the relevant market as app distribution and integrated payments on iPhone.
“As a result, the trial record was not as complete with respect to antitrust conduct in the relevant market as it might have been,” said Gonzalez Rogers.
Apple’s legal team said it is still considering whether to appeal the decision.
“We are extremely pleased with this decision,” Apple General Counsel Katherine L. Adams told reporters. “This underscores the merit of our company, both as an economic and competitive engine.”
Valarie Williams, a partner at law firm Alston & Bird, called Gonzalez Rogers’ decision a “road map” for future plaintiffs pursuing monopoly claims against Apple.
Future plaintiffs could bring a case that adopts Gonzalez Rogers’ market definition and presents additional evidence, Williams said.
Sam Weinstein, professor of antitrust law at the Cardozo School of Law, agreed that the judge’s ruling could encourage other market players to learn from the Epic case and try to deliver a bigger blow to Apple.
The wording of the ruling could even indicate that the judge believes it “is only a matter of time” before Apple becomes a monopoly, Weinstein said.
“It’s just a particular litigation framed in a particular way,” said Davis. “The court was pretty explicit that different litigants could present different evidence… and that could potentially change the outcome.”
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mike Scarcella; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis and Diane Bartz; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Sonya Hepinstall)