Madras HC Rejects Indian Startups’ appeals on Google’s App Billing; Directs no delisting of applications for 3 weeks

The Madras High Court dismissed appeals lodged by Indian startups challenging Google’s app billing policy marks a significant development in the ongoing legal saga. Despite the dismissal, the court has issued a directive to Google, instructing it to abstain from delisting the mobile applications of these startups for a specific window of three weeks. This ruling follows the Madras High Court’s earlier rejection of petitions from 14 companies, including notable entities such as Bharat Matrimony and Unacademy.

The court had previously asserted that the matter squarely fell within the jurisdiction of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). Undeterred by the initial dismissal, the startups pursued appeals, only to face further setback with the dismissal by the division bench. The court underscored the comprehensive nature of remedies available under the Competition Act, surpassing those accessible through a civil court. This underlines the suggestion that challenges to the CCI’s orders should be directed to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, reflecting the intricacies of competition law. The legal proceedings gained momentum following an interim order in August, prompted by a plea from Matrimony.com. This plea sought to prevent Google from removing its app from the Play Store due to non-compliance with the billing policy, setting the stage for a broader legal confrontation.

In the backdrop of these events, the CCI had earlier penalised Google with a hefty fine of Rs. 936 crore in October 2022. The directive included instructions for Google not to restrict app developers from utilizing third-party billing services and not to impose discriminatory conditions. In response, Indian startups alleged that Google introduced the User Choice Billing (UCB) system to circumvent the CCI’s order, urging the court to declare charges under UCB as illegal. The complex legal battle continues to unfold, exposing the intricate intersections of competition law, app billing policies, and the challenges faced by both tech giants and startups navigating the evolving regulatory landscape.

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