Verdict reserved by NCLAT on Google appeal against ₹1,337 crore CCI penalty for anti-competitive practices in Android market


The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) has reserved its judgment on Google's appeal against the Competition Commission of India (CCI) order of imposing a ₹1,337.76 crore fine on the tech giant for allegedly abusing its dominance in the Android mobile ecosystem.

The Bench of NCLAT Chairperson Justice Ashok Bhushan and Dr Alok Srivastava, Member (Technical) have reserved the verdict after hearing arguments in the case for over a month.

The Appellate Tribunal head Senior Advocate Arun Kathpalia and Maninder Singh represented Google LLC and Google India respectively, and Additional Solicitor General (ASG) N Venkatraman represented CCI.

The Appellate Tribunal had earlier refused to grant any interim relief to Google. The matter then travelled to the Supreme Court, which also denied relief to the company. However, the apex court requested the NCLAT to decide the matter by March 31.

Below is a brief summary of arguments made by the counsel in the case.

Google LLC argued that CCI's order suffers from confirmation bias and is based on a similar order from the European Commission (EC) in 2018.

It was stated that the company's agreements do not prevent equipment manufacturers from pre-installing competing apps with similar functionality.

Kathpalia refuted the CCI finding that Google reduced the ability and incentive for manufacturers to develop and sell devices operating on alternative versions of Android by making pre-installation of Google's apps mandatory.

He further said mere dominance in a market does not mean abuse of dominance, and the reason Google why is popular among users is because of its effectiveness. Google is the most searched term on Bing, the search engine owned by Microsoft, Kathpalia said.

Arguments for CCI

ASG Venkataraman said that Google's policies in India can be summed up in five phrases: digital feudalism, digital slavery, technological captivity, chokepoint capitalism and consumer exploitation.

He argued that the companies that did not sign Google's contract have gone extinct. NCLAT was told that all these agreements are linked to one another, and cannot be signed independently.

It was stated that Google abused its dominant position in the Android Operating System (OS) market to indulge in unfair trade practices by restricting entry of other applications in its Play Store.

The ASG further submitted that Google controls nearly 98% of the smartphone market in the country, and if it is found to be violating competition laws, the regulator is duty bound to direct the company to mend its ways.

Intervenors

The Court also heard arguments from intervenors including American gaming company Epic Games, an Indian mobile application named Indus OS and a digital map data development company named MapmyIndia.