Why Nvidia could soon be with hit with antitrust charges in France

Last month, Nvidia briefly became the world’s most valuable company, reaching a market capitalisation of $3.3tn. Behind the company’s meteoric rise to the top lies its market dominance in advanced AI chips.

Once predominantly-known for its high-performance graphic processing units (GPUs) for gaming, Nvidia tapped its technological strengths to venture into the AI race.

Its GPUs excel at parallel processing, simulations, and machine learning tasks, which makes them suitable for the training and deployment of AI models such ChatGPT.

Another big strength for Nvidia is the CUDA chip programming platform and software ecosystem, which has established the company as the foremost supplier of GPU computing, especially for accelerating machine learning workloads.

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Analysts estimate that the tech giant accounts for a 70%-85% share of the AI chips market. This market dominance has put Nvidia in the EU’s crosshairs.

Raising eyebrows in the EU

In a report last week, the French antitrust regulator, the Authorité de la concurrence, expressed concerns about potential anti-competitive practices in the generative AI sector. It highlighted the risk of chip providers abusing their market power.

The authority voiced particular concerns over the industry’s reliance on Nvidia’s CUDA software as well as the company’s recent investments in AI-focused cloud providers such as CoreWeave.

The French regulator also listed a number of risks within the upstream chip value chain, where it places Nvidia. These include denying or limiting developer’s access to chips, which could lead to “delays or the introduction of less ambitious models, thereby undermining effective competition in the market,” the authority said.

According to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Reuters, the regulator is planning to formally charge Nvidia for allegedly anti-competitive behaviour. This would mark the first time a national enforcer is taking legal action against the tech company.

The developments follow a September raid of Nvidia’s offices in France as part of the authority’s investigation into cloud computing competition.

Nvidia was also reportedly subject of an informal EU probe into suspected monopolistic practices in the AI chip sector.

As the EU is pushing for digital sovereignty and the increase of its domestic chip production, it’s not unlikely that Nvidia’s market dominance will attract the (official) attention of the European Commission — which is already cracking down on big tech.

The concentration of advanced AI chip supply into the hands of a US-based tech giant could hinder the bloc’s ambitions by leading to potential risks such as production restrictions, unfair contractual terms, and even price manipulation.

The French regulator’s next move could initiate a domino effect on national and EU-wide reactions alike.

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