Judge Orders Apple to Ease Restrictions on App Developers

Apple is expected to petition a judge to block the order from taking effect. Either company could also appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel could review the decision, a process that could take a year or more. After a ruling there, Apple or Epic could appeal to the Supreme Court.

The ruling allows both parties to claim a partial victory. Apple now has a court ruling saying it does not have a monopoly in a major digital marketplace, undermining its opponents’ efforts to claim it violates antitrust laws. But the Epic lawsuit could also force Apple to open its watertight iPhone software to create an avenue for developers to avoid its commission.

Apple shares fell nearly 3 percent on the Nasdaq after the ruling was announced.

“Today, the court has affirmed what we have known all along: the App Store does not violate antitrust law,” Apple said in a statement. “As the court recognized, ‘success is not illegal.’ Apple faces stiff competition in every segment in which we operate, and we believe that customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world. “

The ruling upheld many of Apple’s App Store business tenets, including that it can ban third-party iPhone app marketplaces and can still charge a 30 percent commission on many transactions. Epic had challenged those practices.

“It puts an economic question mark around the App Store, but at the same time, it affirms the principles” of the business, said Adam Kovacevich, a former Google lobbyist who now runs a group of technology policies which is sponsored in part by Apple.

Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic, said on Twitter that he wasn’t satisfied with the bug because it didn’t go far enough in allowing companies to complete in-app transactions with their own payment systems, rather than having to direct customers to external websites. He said that Fortnite would not return to the App Store until such rules were established.

“Today’s decision is not a victory for developers or consumers,” he said. “We will continue fighting.”

Rubin, the antitrust attorney, said Apple would be relieved to evade the monopoly label, but that the judge’s verdict would likely do little to strengthen its position in other investigations because antitrust lawsuits can vary. He said Apple might also have to consider cutting its commission now that it will be easier for developers to send customers elsewhere to make purchases.

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