The European Commission slapped Intel with the fine in 2009 after ruling that the company had abused its dominance in the microprocessor market by offering rebates to PC makers that used its chips instead of those made by competitors.
"The case is referred back to the General Court in order for it to examine the arguments put forward by Intel concerning the capacity of the rebates at issue to restrict competition", the ECJ said.
The European Court of Justice was critical of the lower court's lack of consideration of Intel's arguments about competition and lack of scrutiny of the underlying facts.
The Commission had imposed the fine in May 2009 claiming that the U.S. manufacturing giant which employs thousands of people in Leixlip, had abused its dominant position in the microchip market.
The European Court of Justice yesterday (6 September 2017) ruled that Intel's appeal should now be re-examined because the judges in the appeal case had failed to properly analyse the economic aspects of the case.
The European Commission gave a cautious response when asked what the latest ruling would mean for other technology companies under investigation in Europe, and whether it would give those firms confidence to pursue legal challenges rather than to reach financial settlements.
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Historically, European courts have effectively rubber-stamped European Commission antitrust decisions and fines. "The court sent the case back to the General Court for reassessment in light of its holding". It had also, the Commission found, paid German retailer Media-Saturn for selling exclusively x86 computers with Intel processors.
The General Court's new treatment of Intel's appeal is likely to add between two to four years to the process, making the case more than a decade old before it is finally decided.
Intel declined to immediately comment, saying it needed to study the ruling first.
Whilst the Commission had emphasised that the rebates at issue were by their very nature capable of restricting competition, such that an "AEC test" was not necessary, the CJEU noted that the Commission nevertheless "carried out an in-depth examination of those circumstances", setting out "a very detailed analysis of the AEC test".
In June the Commission hit Google with a €2.4bn fine over its online shopping services.