Monday, May 27, 2024

A jury ruled on Monday that Google had violated antitrust laws to extract fees and limit competition from Epic Games and other developers on its Play mobile app store, in a case that could rewrite the rules on how thousands of businesses make money on Google’s smartphone operating system, Android.

After deliberating for a little more than three hours, the nine-person federal jury sided with Epic Games on all 11 questions in a monthlong trial that was the latest turn in a three-year legal battle.

The jury in San Francisco found that Epic, the maker of the hit game Fortnite, proved that Google had maintained a monopoly in the smartphone app store market and engaged in anticompetitive conduct that harmed the videogame maker.

Google could be forced to alter its Play Store rules, allowing other companies to offer competing app stores and making it easier for developers to avoid the cut it collects from in-app purchases. And the verdict could imperil the company’s ability to collect commissions from app store purchases.

Judge James Donato will decide the remedies needed to address Google’s conduct early next year.

Throughout the trial, Google’s lawyers and executives had argued that it competed against Apple’s App Store, which is more popular in the United States, making it impossible to operate an Android monopoly.

The verdict provided a lift to Epic’s yearslong quest to weaken the power that Google and Apple have over the mobile app ecosystem, and came two years after Epic mostly lost a similar case against Apple — a ruling that both sides are trying to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In pursuing the case against Google, filed in 2020, the developer had sought to keep more of the revenue it generates from in-app purchases and offer an app store that would compete with Play on the Android operating system.

Google was fighting Epic’s claims at the same time that it was defending itself in another antitrust trial in Washington, D.C. The Department of Justice and dozens of states have accused the company of illegally maintaining a search and advertising monopoly, in a landmark antitrust case that could reshape tech power when it is decided next year.

On the Play Store, Google charges app makers a 15 percent fee for customer payments for app subscriptions and up to 30 percent for purchases made within popular apps that are downloaded from the store. Google says 99 percent of developers qualify for a fee of 15 percent or lower on in-app purchases.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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