Apple wins last minute reprieve over decision that could have cost it billions of dollars

The Fortnite logo on a phone with the Apple logo showing
App developers won't be allowed to bypass the in-app purchase system yet. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Apple versus Epic Games legal fight has taken a new twist, with the tech giants winning a last-minute reprieve over a decision that had the potential to cost it billions of dollars.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Apple's request to halt the order less than 12 hours before it was due to go into effect, having previously failed with an appeal to the original judge, US district Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, in November.

Her earlier ruling would have stopped Apple prohibiting developers from including buttons or links in their apps to bypass the company's in-app purchase system.

Epic's bypassing of that system was the reason Fortnite was originally banned from the App Store. 

Apple charges a commission on in-app sales of 30 percent for those who earn over US$1 million on its App Store.

According to an earlier report from Bloomberg, the lowering of commissions could hit the Cupertino-based company's revenue by between US$2 billion to US$4 billion annually.

"Apple has demonstrated, at minimum, that its appeal raises serious questions on the merits of the district court's determination that Epic Games failed to show Apple's conduct violated any antitrust laws," the ruling said.

The court's halt on the order remains in place until all appeals are finalised. That could take five years and a trip to the US Supreme Court, according to Epic CEO Tim Sweeney.

Apple has already said Fortnite will not be allowed back until all legal processes are complete.

However, the stay doesn't apply to Apple stopping app makers from contacting customers outside the app to let them know about alternative means of paying for content, with the court agreeing with Judge Gonzalez Roger that the company broke California's unfair competition law.

Developers will be able to use email addresses and mobile phone numbers provided by the user to share the information about payment methods as long as that communication takes place outside of the iOS app.

Randal Picker, a University of Chicago Law School professor, told Reuters the decision was "clearly good news for Apple".

"Good news in the short run in that they don't have to implement changes to the App Store right now, and a hint that Apple may win in the Ninth Circuit when the case is considered fully on the merits," he said.

Epic has so far refused to comment on the ruling according to multiple news outlets.