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Supreme Court likely to let case against Apple go forward

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments involving a class-action lawsuit against Apple on Monday, and reports from observers suggested that the court is inclined to allow the lawsuit against Apple to proceed in lower courts.

The iPhone users are seeking massive damages from Apple, complaining that the company is violating federal antitrust laws by requiring the users to buy apps exclusively from the App Store. But as it comes to the justices, the case is about whether the iPhone users can bring their lawsuit at all: Apple contends that they cannot, because it is only selling the apps at the prices set by app developers. After 60 minutes of debate, there seemed to be at least five votes to allow the case to move forward, with only Chief Justice John Roberts appearing to be a clear vote for Apple.

The lawsuit alleges that Apple is in violation of federal antitrust laws because it requires apps to be sold through the company’s own App Store and takes a 30 percent commission from the purchases. The Supreme Court is deciding if specific aspects of antitrust law apply, which would mean that iOS app buyers would have standing to sue.

While it’s possible that the case could eventually hit Apple with a huge judgment and possibly force the company to change its policy about third-party apps, there’s a long way to get to that point. If the Supreme Court rules in the favor of the plaintiffs, the lawsuit would proceed at a lower level of the federal court system. In that trial, the plaintiffs would have to address many other issues, including the idea that the App Store constitutes a monopoly, given that the iPhone represents a minority of the smartphone market and alternatives are readily available.