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Tim Cook takes the stand to defend Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook (MINT_PRINT)

Tim Cook will take the stand for the first time as chief executive officer of Apple appearing as the final witness in the company’s closely watched antitrust battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games Inc.

Tim Cook will take the stand for the first time as chief executive officer of Apple Inc., appearing as the final witness in the company’s closely watched antitrust battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games Inc.

As the three-week trial in Oakland, California winds toward its close, Cook is expected Friday to face 2 hours and 10 minutes of questions about the company’s values and its competitive landscape, with the time split between lawyers for Apple and Epic. The soft-spoken 60-year-old, who has been CEO since 2011, will need to push back against Epic’s claims that Apple’s App Store juices profits from developers and consumers with unfair and self-serving policies.

Epic filed suit against Apple in August, after the iPhone-maker removed Fortnite from its App Store because the gaming company created a workaround so it wouldn’t have to continue paying a 30% fee on customers’ in-app purchases. The case has drawn interest across Silicon Valley, with everyone from Microsoft Corp. to Nvidia Corp. weighing into the fight.

A ruling in Epic’s favor would loosen Apple’s grip on its store and could upend the way millions of developers distribute apps to handheld device users the world over. It could also potentially spur action from the U.S. Justice Department and other global regulators examining the extent of Apple’s power as a gatekeeper to the digital economy.

Apple is betting that Cook, who didn’t end up testifying during the company’s earlier court battles with Samsung Electronics Co. and Qualcomm Inc., will reinforce its argument that its policies are designed to benefit developers and customers. Cook, who’s known for his sharp negotiating skills with suppliers, has had plenty of opportunity to hone his response to criticism that the world’s most valuable company has grown too big. Just last year he and the CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook endured hours of withering questions from lawmakers who accused them during a Capitol Hill hearing of using their power to crush rivals and squash competition.

Epic’s attorneys have been combative yet respectful while cross-examining Apple’s witnesses. Phil Schiller, Apple’s former marketing chief, was peppered with a series of rapid-fire questions by Epic’s lead attorney during his time on the stand. He stayed composed as he handled queries.

Unlike his other public appearances, Cook won’t be speaking to a group -- he will only have to convince the single judge overseeing the case. It won’t be immediately clear how much of an impact Cook makes at the trial because the judge may take weeks or months to write a decision.

“The ‘David versus Goliath’ narrative -- where Epic is the ‘good guy’ and Apple is the ‘bad guy’ – is something that I imagine would normally play better with a jury than a sophisticated judge,” said David Kesselman, a Los Angeles-based antitrust litigator and partner at Kesselman Brantly Stockinger, who’s not involved in the case.

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