By Foo Yun Chee
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm returned to Europe’s second-top court on Monday seeking to overturn a 242-million-euro ($258.4 million) EU antitrust fine, a year after it convinced the same court to throw out a much bigger penalty in another antitrust case.
The European Commission slapped the fine on Qualcomm in 2019 for selling its chipsets below cost between 2009 and 2011, in a practice known as predatory pricing, to stymie British phone software maker Icera, now part of Nvidia Corp.
The company last year secured a major win as it convinced the General Court to scrap a 997 million euro EU antitrust fine in another case related to payments made to Apple to use only its chips in all its iPhones and iPads in order to block out rivals such as Intel Corp.
Qualcomm lawyer Miguel Rato criticised the Commission’s investigations against the company on the first day of the three-day hearing.
“This is the second instalment of the Commission’s campaign against Qualcomm. The first was the exclusivity decision squashed by the Court,” he told the General Court.
He said the 3G baseband chipsets singled out in the case accounted for just 0.7% of the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) market and thus it was not possible for Qualcomm to shut out rivals from the chipset market.
“What price should Qualcomm have charged for each chipset and each quarter to allow it to pass the price cost test?” Rato said.
Qualcomm’s actions showed it was determined to eliminate a rival before it could pose a competitive threat, Commission lawyer Carlos Urraca Caviedes told the court.
“Icera was about to gain a solid foothold in the market segment which was strategically important for future growth. Qualcomm feared that if it did not take action, Icera would grow to expand and become a formidable rival,” he said.
The court will rule in the coming months. The case is T-671/19 Qualcomm v Commission.
($1 = 0.9366 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)