CJEU partially annuls Commission competition decision about optical disk drives but upholds fines

June 20, 2022

The CJEU has ruled in Case C-697/19 P Sony Corporation and Sony Electronics, Inc v European Commission. In 2015, the Commission found that several companies had infringed competition rules by participating in a cartel on the market for optical disk drives (ODDs) and imposed fines on them amounting in total to €116 million. The infringements concerned ODDs used in desktop and notebook computers produced by Dell and by Hewlett Packard. They were the principal original equipment manufacturers on the global market for personal computers and they used standard procurement procedures carried out on a global basis. Those procedures involved quarterly negotiations over a worldwide price and overall purchase volumes with a limited number of pre-qualified ODD suppliers.

The Commission considered that the cartel participants had coordinated their competitive behaviour.  They communicated their intentions about their tendering strategy for obtaining contracts, they shared the results of the procurement procedures and exchanged other sensitive information. The Commission stated that that coordination took place through a network of parallel bilateral contacts. The cartel participants sought to accommodate their volumes on the market and ensure that the prices remained at levels higher than they would have been in the absence of those bilateral contacts. 

Sony Corporation, Sony Optiarc, Sony Optiarc America, Quanta Storage, Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology and Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Korea brought actions for the annulment of the Commission Decision or the reduction of the fines imposed. The General Court dismissed their actions.

Appeals were brought before the Court of Justice against those judgments of the General Court, seeking to have those judgments set aside and Commission Decision annulled, or the amounts of the fines imposed reduced.

The Court of Justice has now set aside the judgments of the General Court and partially annulled the Commission Decision.

The Court of Justice found that the General Court erred in law in holding that the Commission had not breached the rights of defence of those companies and that it had satisfied its obligation to state reasons for the decision by which it found that those companies had participated in several separate infringements, in addition to their participation in a single and continuous infringement. The Court of Justice rejected the other arguments relied on by the parties.

However with regard to the fines imposed by the Commission, the Court considered that none of the elements relied on by the participants in the cartel, nor any ground of public policy, justified it making use of its unlimited jurisdiction to reduce the fines.