The Supreme Court rejected two petitions from Apple and Epic Games, makers of Fortnite, regarding an ongoing antitrust dispute that’s pitted the two companies against each other for years.
On January 16, the Court declined to hear Epic Game’s appeal of a lower court’s decision, which deemed Apple App Store policies that limited how software was distributed and paid for isn’t a violation of federal antitrust laws. The ruling barred certain App Store rules that dissuaded developers from steering customers away from making payments and in-app purchases through Apple. The Supreme Court also rejected its appeal.
Epic Games Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney took to X to post his frustrations with the decision but also his relief for changes to anti-steering policies, which can offer customers and developers better prices.
“The Supreme Court denied both sides’ appeals of the Epic v. Apple antitrust case,” said Sweeney, according to The Verge. “The court battle to open iOS to competing stores and payments is lost in the United States. A sad outcome for all developers.”
In 2020, Epic Games filed an antitrust lawsuit that accused Apple of acting as an illegal monopolist. It required consumers to download apps through its App Store and buy digital content inside an app using its system. Apple charges up to a 30% commission for in-app purchases. The game developer implemented its own payment system that utilized Fortnite’s virtual currency and skirted Apple’s commission on in-app purchases. In response, Apple banned Epic Games from its App Store.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected the lawsuit in 2021 but found Apple violated California’s unfair competition law by banning developers from “steering” users to make digital purchases that bypass Apple’s in-app systems. Epic Games said this tactic could have saved them money by paying lower commissions.
In 2023, San Francisco’s 0th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of Roger’s decision. It found Epic Games “failed to prove the existence of substantially less restrictive alternatives” than Apple’s system. The injunction required Apple to let app developers offer links and buttons to direct consumers to alternate ways to pay for digital content. This is currently on hold until Apple’s appeal runs its course. Epic Games was denied a bid that same year to let the injunction move ahead.
Both rulings found Apple to have acted anticompetitively by preventing developers from informing users about other payment options. This week’s decision from the Supreme Court means Apple is running out of time and appeals to overrule the ruling to change its anti-steering policies.
However, Epic Games is still not back on the App Store. Apple and Epic Games were not available for comment.
Apple’s appeal states Epic Games didn’t file a class-action lawsuit, and the injunction “exceeds the constitutional authority of federal courts,” according to CNBC.
Epic Games won a different lawsuit against Google last December, which Google said it would appeal. Epic Games sought $10.5 billion in antitrust damages, citing Google’s “unjustly collected fees.” States Attorneys General settled for a one-time $700 million payout. The company said it will continue to seek “meaningful remedies” to help consumers and developers benefit from the competition U.S. antitrust laws promote.
“Consumers will continue to pay for digital goods as a result of Google’s imposition of supracompetitive 30% fees for Google Play Billing or 26% junk fees on top of payments Google isn’t involved in processing,” Epic Games said in a statement. “Developers will also continue to be restricted in how they distribute their apps, and developers who choose to use a third-party payment option will be forced to use Google’s deceptively-labeled ‘user choice billing’ system rather than having creative freedom over the design of their payment systems.”