On 9 April 2019, the General Court ("GC") dismissed the appeal lodged by Qualcomm against the Commission's decision of 31 March 2017 requesting information in the context of an investigation against Qualcomm for alleged predatory pricing contrary to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The particularity of this case is that the request for information, adopted under Article 18 of Regulation 1/2003 on Procedure, was sent to Qualcomm many months after the statement of objections and the observations lodged by Qualcomm, thus at a very late stage of the administrative procedure.
Qualcomm challenged the Commission's decision. In particular, it argued that the Commission had infringed its obligation to state reasons, especially given that the contested decision was issued almost seven years after the beginning of the investigation and a year and a half after the statement of objections was adopted. The GC relied on its traditional case-law and recalled that the Commission has an obligation to state the purpose of the request for information, which includes an obligation to indicate the subject matter of the investigation and identify the alleged infringement of competition law. The GC found that the Commission had clearly and unequivocally mentioned the products and the customers to which the investigation related, as well as the alleged infringements justifying the decision.
Qualcomm also argued that the Commission infringed the principle of necessity by requiring information which was not necessary. The GC recalled that for information to be necessary, there must be a correlation between the request for information and the alleged infringement. In particular, the GC found that the mere fact that the Commission continues its investigation after the adoption of the statement of objections through additional requests for information does not, in itself, call into question the necessity of the information requested. For the GC, the Commission is entitled to continue its fact-finding process after the statement of objections, in particular in order to take into consideration the observations of the undertakings. The GC then noted that the information requested by the Commission would help the Commission to determine whether the alleged infringement took place. Therefore, it dismissed Qualcomm's plea.
In addition, Qualcomm argued that the preparation of the response to the request for information entailed a disproportionate burden in breach of the proportionality principle. In particular, Qualcomm considered that the Commission sought a particularly large amount of information in a specific format, which was disproportionately costly and time-consuming. The GC, however, sided with the Commission and found that the request was largely aimed at re-constructing the price-cost structure of Qualcomm's products under investigation, which requires a complex analysis of data which can be provided only by Qualcomm. The GC therefore concluded that the workload required from Qualcomm was not disproportionate having regard to the needs of the investigation, particularly taking account of Qualcomm's replies to the statement of objections.
The GC dismissed all the pleas put forward by Qualcomm and therefore confirmed the lawfulness of the request for information, even if it had been adopted at a very late stage of the administrative procedure.
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