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Explainer-Epic Games verdict adds to Google’s global antitrust woes

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Explainer-Epic Games verdict adds to Google’s global antitrust woes
Reuters
Mike Scarcella
December 12, 2023

By Mike Scarcella

(Reuters) - “Fortnite” maker Epic Games won a major antitrust trial against Alphabet’s Google in San Francisco, persuading a federal jury on Monday that some of the technology giant’s rules for its app Play store violated U.S. competition law.

Here’s a look at what’s next in the case, and other major antitrust headaches facing Google.

WHAT WAS THE VERDICT?

The jury said, after just three hours of deliberations, that Google’s tight controls on its Play store amounted to an illegal monopoly over both app distribution to Android users and in-app payment processing. Epic did not ask the court for monetary damages.

A judge had ruled earlier that Google improperly deleted internal online “chat” logs relevant to Epic's claims. The jury was told that the evidence would have been unfavorable to Google.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

U.S. District Judge James Donato in January will hear dueling arguments on Epic’s request for a court order to rewrite how Google operates the Play store. Google could object that whatever changes Epic proposes are too sweeping.

Google said it will appeal the jury’s verdict. It could also appeal Donato's eventual decision on Epic's requested remedies, potentially teeing up years of additional litigation.

WHAT ABOUT EPIC’S CASE AGAINST APPLE?

Google’s appeal will land in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that heard Epic's separate 2020 antitrust case against Apple over its App Store rules.

The appeals court in April largely ruled for Apple, upholding a 2021 decision by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that said Apple’s app rules did not violate antitrust law.

Legal scholars noted that the facts of the two cases were distinct, and said a key difference was that the case against Apple was decided by the judge directly, with no jury.

Epic's bid to revive the Apple case is now pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. Apple also appealed a part of the court’s order that would require it to make some changes to its App Store.

WHAT OTHER ANTITRUST CASES IS GOOGLE FIGHTING?

Google faces an array of private civil antitrust lawsuits from U.S. advertisers and publishers, in addition to U.S. government claims challenging its search and advertising technology practices.

In the E.U., Google is trying to overturn a $2.6 billion antitrust fine imposed by the top court for alleged market abuses related to its shopping service.

The verdict in Epic Games’ case does not directly affect those other cases, but it could spur other potential plaintiffs such as businesses and app developers to band together in a class action, antitrust lawyers said.

Google likely faces a jury trial next year in Virginia in a case brought by the U.S. Justice Department and a group of states over its dominance in digital advertising. Google has denied any wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by David Bario and Nick Zieminski)

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