Paris Court of Appeal overturns Google abuse of dominance ruling

By Gabriele Accardo

On November 25, 2015, the Paris Court of Appeal (PCA) reversed the December 2012 ruling of the Commercial Tribunal of Paris (CTP) , which found that Google (specifically Google France and Google Inc.) abused its dominant position in the French market for “online mapping allowing for the geolocalisation of sales points on company websites,” in breach of Article L.420-2 of the French Commercial Code, and ordered Google to pay damages, amounting to Euro 500,000, to its French competitor Evermaps (formerly Bottin Cartographes).

The CTP essentially held that Google abused its dominant position insofar as it offered its geographic search engine “Google Maps” for free with the goal to exclude competition from the market and, ultimately, to further exploit its dominant position in the commercialization of targeted advertising (see Newsletter 2/2012, p. 8 for additional background).

Evermaps damage claim chiefly concerned Google’s predatory pricing of its mapping service Google Maps API, which allows companies to embed maps on their website (companies can either choose an upgraded paid version or a free version of Google Maps). Evermaps claimed that the offering of free services by Google constituted a form of predatory pricing.

However, the PCA actually followed the opinion of the French Competition Authority handed down in December 2014. The French Competition Authority was of the view that Google did not pursue a predatory or exclusionary strategy by offering a free version of Google Maps API.

In particular, the PCA found that Google’s pricing policy could not be considered as predatory, after taking into account the results of twenty tests on pricing. The Court held that although Google offered some of its mapping products for free, income from other sources, such as advertising should also be taken into account to determine whether its pricing conduct can be deemed predatory. Accordingly, eighteen out of twenty of the costs tests carried out indicated that the revenue Google generated from its online mapping services were above long-run average incremental costs and thus fully covered costs, including those generated by the free version.

The two tests that “failed” to meet that standard actually showed that although revenue generated by its online mapping tools were below long-run average incremental costs, they were nonetheless above average avoidable costs.

In addition, the PCA found that Google did not have the intention of forcing competitors out of the market, since for operators that are active on multisided markets “…It may be rational to offer products or services for free on a market not to oust competitors but to increase the number of users on another market” whereas “the free business model is quite widespread on electronic markets”, as the French Competition Authority had noted in its opinion.

The PCA also held that, in any case, Google did not have the ability to keep competitors out of the market given the presence of strong competition, as well as the possibility that other strong competitors, such as Amazon or Apple may enter the market.