U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Apple v. Epic antitrust appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a request to hear the antitrust case between Apple and Fortnite and Unreal Engine developer, Epic Games. Both companies filed appeals, but now the prior ruling (largely in Apple’s favor) will stand as is.

Epic’s legal battle against both Apple and Google’s allegedly unfair competitive practices began in 2020. In 2021, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Apple wasn’t unfairly monopolizing the mobile app space with iOS or its in-app purchasing system. However, Epic did secure a small win which required Apple to remove its anti-steering rules. This small victory held through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ review in April 2023.

Now that the Supreme Court has declined to take on the case, the April 2023 ruling will now go into effect. According to Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, developers can direct users to payment alternatives starting today.

However, it’s not clear that this anti-steering change prevents Apple from collecting its standard 30% cut of purchases. According to attorney Richard Hoeg’s coverage of the Appeallate court ruling, Apple’s developer agreement implies that developers are still contractually obligated to pay the 30% cut even if consumers are steered elsewhere to pay.

Additionally, Epic has officially lost its attempt to make Apple allow developers to distribute apps via third-party stores or side-loading. This also means that Fortnite will likely not return to iOS.

This outcome contrasts with Epic’s recent jury victory over Google in December 2023. Google plans to appeal the decision, but its contracts with third-party phone makers was a key difference compared to Apple.

While Apple will walk away largely victorious in the U.S., the tech giant has not escaped regulators globally. On March 7, Europe’s Digital Markets Act will go into effect, though Apple is also challenging these new regulations.

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