In a significant development, a federal judge said, she was “inclined” to grant Epic Games’ request to block Apple Inc’s move to remove its developer accounts from its App Store saying she saw “no competition” to Apple’s App Store on the iPhone.
The development comes in the wake of Epic filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple earlier this month which essentially aims to rewrite the rules on Apple’s App Store business.
Apple had removed Epic’s popular game “Fortnite” from its App Store citing non-compliance to its App Store rules. In its antitrust lawsuit Epic has alleged that Apple’s behavior is anti-competitive and that Cupertino is abusing its dominance position in the market for iPhone apps.
During the hearing, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said, she viewed Epic’s request through “two lenses”: while one was the harm it caused Epic following the eviction of its game from Apple’s App Store, and the other was what potential harm would come to hundreds of other games on Apple’s App Store if Epic was unable to maintain its Unreal Engine software after Apple terminated all of Epic’s Apple developer contracts.
“I can tell you right now that I am inclined not to grant relief with respect to the games, but I am inclined to grant relief with respect to the Unreal Engine,” said Gonzalez Rogers.
The Unreal Engine is a computer graphics software development kit which hundreds of developers use to create games and apps to power their offerings.
Gonzalez Rogers highlighted Apple’s ban on downloading iPhone apps from outside the App Store in an exchange with Apple counsel Richard Doren.
“There is no competition. The question is, without competition, where does the 30% (App Store commission) come from? Why isn’t it 10? 20? How is the consumer benefiting from, you (Apple) get to say what you want it to be?” asked Gonzalez Rogers.
Doren replied to the question by saying consumers could opt to buy an Android device.
“The competition is in the foremarket,” he said.
This argument is central to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook’s defense during Congressional anti-trust hearings.
Gonzalez Rogers countered that argument by saying there were “plenty of economic theory” to show that switching brands imposed costs on consumers.
Doren later said Apple would prove at trial that “people switch all the time.”
“It’ll be interesting, like I said,” said Gonzalez Rogers.