WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — The Justice Department on Thursday announced a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of an illegal monopoly in smartphone devices that limits competitors and stifles innovation.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, alleges that Apple has monopoly power in the smartphone market and uses its control over the iPhone to “engage in a broad, sustained, and illegal course of conduct.”

The lawsuit — which was also filed with 16 state attorneys general — is the latest example of the Justice Department’s approach to aggressive enforcement of federal antitrust law.

 

The increased policing of corporate mergers and business deals has been met with resistance from some business leaders who have said the Democratic administration is overreaching, but it’s been lauded by others as long overdue.

The case is taking direct aim at the digital fortress that Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, has assiduously built around the iPhone and other popular products such as the iPad, Mac and Apple Watch to create what is often referred to as a “walled garden” so its meticulously designed hardware and software can seamlessly flourish together while requiring consumers to do little more than turn the devices on.

The strategy has helped make Apple the world’s most prosperous company, with annual revenue of nearly $400 billion and, until recently, a market value of more than $3 trillion.

But Apple’s shares have fallen by 7% this year even as most of the stock market has climbed to new highs, resulting in long-time rival Microsoft — a target of a major Justice Department antitrust case a quarter-century ago — to seize the mantle as the world’s most valuable company.

Apple has defended the walled garden as an indispensable feature prized by consumers.

But antitrust regulators made it clear in their complaint that they see Apple’s walled garden most as a weapon to ward off competition, creating market conditions that enable it to charge higher prices that have propelled its lofty profit margins while stifling innovation.

“Consumers should not have to pay higher prices because companies violate the antitrust laws,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We allege that Apple has maintained monopoly power in the smartphone market, not simply by staying ahead of the competition on the merits, but by violating federal antitrust law. If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly.”

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