Apple has been dealt a major blow in its ongoing trial against Fortnite-maker Epic Games.
A court in Oakland, California has ruled that Apple cannot stop app developers directing users to third-party payment options.
Apple had argued that all apps should use Apple’s own in-app payment options.
But Epic Games challenged the up-to-30% cut Apple takes from purchases and argued that the App Store was a monopoly.
On Friday, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers issued a permanent injunction that said Apple could no longer prohibit developers linking to their own purchasing mechanisms.
For example, a movie-streaming service will now be able to tell customers to subscribe via its own website, without using Apple’s in-app purchasing mechanism.
Epic has also taken legal action against Google over its Play Store.
Apple’s closed payments system is hugely lucrative for the tech giant, although the company says it does not know exactly how much it makes.
The ruling effectively states that Apple cannot ban developers from communicating with customers. Often there are cheaper options for consumers away from the App Store, however Apple did not allow companies to tell consumers this.
Epic had argued that this was unreasonable and that developers should be able to inform users that they could make purchases away from the App Store.
Success is not illegal
However in a win for Apple, the judge also ruled Epic failed to demonstrate Apple was operating an illegal monopoly.
Judge Yvonne Gonzales-Rogers said: “Apple enjoys considerable market share of over 55% and extraordinary high profit margins.”
But added: “These factors alone do not show antitrust conduct. Success is not illegal.”
A spokesperson for Apple said: “Today the Court has affirmed what we’ve known all along: the App Store is not in violation of antitrust law.
“Apple faces rigorous competition in every segment in which we do business, and we believe customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world.”
Epic Games’ chief Tim Sweeney said the ruling was “not a win for developers or consumers” and vowed to “fight on”.
Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers. https://t.co/cGTBxThnsP
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) September 10, 2021
It’s likely the decision will be appealed, perhaps by both sides.
Apple’s share price has fallen by 3% since the decision, wiping billion of dollars from its valuation.