Antitrust Writing Awards – OECD Nominations

A number of papers issuing from the OECD have been nominated for the Antitrust Writing Awards by ‘Concurrences’. This is a good occasion to read a number of very interesting pieces published last year, and for voting for the ones you enjoy the most. You can find all the nominated pieces here. Among these pieces, you will find: The OECD’s ‘Market Study Guide for Competition Authorities’. You can find it and vote for it here. The OECD’s work on ‘Rethinking Antitrust Tools for Multi-sided Platforms’. You can find it and vote for it here. Both were nominated for the ‘Soft Law’ category. An article of mine on private enforcement, recently published by the Common Market Law Review, on ‘EU and National Approaches to Passing on and Causation in Competition Damages Cases’. You can find it and vote for it here.

Marios C. Iacovides and Jakob Jeanrond ‘Overcoming methodological challenges in the application of competition law to digital platforms—a Swedish perspective’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6(3) 437

This article, which can be found here, reviews three cases dealing with multisided markets handled by the Swedish Competition Authority (SCA). The cases concerned online hotel booking, online listings of properties and the market for online orders of take away food. The article tests some predictions on the economic behaviour of platform markets that can be found in the academic literature against the outcomes of these cases. The paper is structured as follows: Section II outlines methodological challenges raised by the digital and platform economy. Platform businesses operate differently from traditional businesses, mainly because they function as matchmakers between different groups of consumers. While economists have developed new models better to explain the particular economic features associated with multisided platforms, the incorporation of these particular economic features into competition law presents certain methodological challenges. Firstly, while a platform may offer some services that a traditional business does not, one side of the platform’s service offering may directly overlap with that…

Jerome Pouyet and Thomas Trégouët ‘Assessing The Impact Of Vertical Integration in Platform Markets’ (2018) Competition Policy International Antitrust Chronicle December

This technical economics paper, which can be found here, argues that, in the context of vertical mergers, indirect network effects create a form of demand complementarity downstream that softens the anticompetitive effects of vertical integration. At the same time, vertical integration creates various sources of market power. How such market power is exerted, and its impact on competition, depends on how the integrated firm balances its price instruments to harness indirect network effects. This depends, in turn, on how each side of the market values the participation of users from the other side, or, in short, the structure of indirect network effects. The authors show, in particular, that there is no systematic correlation between stronger upstream market power and foreclosure of competitors or consumer harm. The paper is structured as follows: Section II introduces a framework to analyse vertical integration with two-sided network effects. The literature on vertical integration between an upstream input supplier and a downstream manufacturer has highlighted…

Reuben Binns and Elettra Bietti ‘Acquisitions in the Third-Party Tracking Industry’

This working paper, which can be found here , draws attention to one particularly complicated kind of digital data intensive industry: third party tracking, in which a firm does not (only or primarily) collect and process personal data of its own customers or users, but focuses instead on collecting data of users of other ‘first party’ services. The authors focus on mergers and acquisitions of third-party tracking firms because they raise some unique challenges which are often missed in regulatory decisions and academic discussions of data and market concentration. The paper is structured as follows: Section 1 contains a brief overview of the technical elements of third party tracking and of the business practices associated with it. This description is somewhat long because it provides a good overview of these business practices; you may want to skip it if you are familiar with them. ‘Tracking’ refers to a range of data collection and processing practices which aim to collate the behaviours…

Michael Katz and Jonathan Sallet ‘Multisided Platforms and Antitrust Enforcement’ (2018) Yale Law Journal 2142

This paper,  available here, looks at two questions regarding competition enforcement in platform markets: (i) how should one account for the distinct characteristics of platforms when defining an antitrust market; and (ii) how, if at all, should one weigh user groups’ gains and losses on different sides of a platform against one another. In short, the authors argue that enforcers and courts should use a multiple-markets approach to multisided platforms, in which different groups of users on different sides of a platform belong in different product markets. This approach allows one to account for cross-market network effects without collapsing all platform users into a single product market. They further argue that enforcers should consider the price structure of a platform, and not simply its net price, when assessing competitive effects. This justifies the use of a separate-effects analysis, according to which anticompetitive conduct harming users on one side of a platform cannot be justified just because that harm funds benefits for users…

Lapo Filistrucchi ‘Two-sided v Complementary Products’ (2018) CPI Antitrust September Chronicle

This paper, which can be found here, It aims to clarify whether and to what extent two-sided platforms are different from platforms selling complementary products. It also seeks to explain why the distinction matters for the purposes of competition assessments of firms’ behaviour. The paper is structured as follows: A first section explains why firms operating in two-sided markets are different from firms selling complementary products. According to the economic literature, a two-sided platform is a firm that sells two different products or services to two groups of consumers, where the demand from one group of consumers depends on the demand from the other group and, potentially, vice versa. In other words, demand is affected by indirect network effects (i.e. consumers’ willingness to pay for a product depends on the number of consumers (or the quantity bought) of another product). A platform internalizes these indirect network effects. There are differences between platforms and firms selling complements. A first difference is that, in…

Daniel Mandrescu ‘Applying (EU) Competition Law to Online Platforms: Reflections on the Definition of the Relevant Market(s)’ (2018) World Competition 41(3) 453

Online platforms cater their services to at least two separate customer groups by facilitating an interaction. Accordingly, when assessing the market power of an online platform, it is essential to establish whether those customer groups are part of a single relevant market or multiple relevant markets. The purpose of this article, available here, is to provide practical guidance on the market definition process for online platforms in light of their distinctive characteristics. It does so through three sections: The first section shortly discusses the importance of the market definition for the application of Article 102 TFEU in practice. Findings of dominance rely on an adequate measurement of economic market power. Whether economic market power amounts to legal dominance is a determination that depends on a properly defined relevant market. Market definition is also required for evaluating any possible efficiency arguments that would justify the prima facie anticompetitive practices of the concerned undertaking. The second section develops an approach to market definition…

Thomas F. Cotter, Erik Hovenkamp and Norman Siebrasse on ‘Switching Costs, Path Dependence and Patent Holdup’

Patent holdup occurs when a patent holder extracts higher royalties ex post than it could have negotiated ex ante, where the difference is not explained by an increase in the technology’s value. To date, the literature principally has focused on—indeed, sometimes conflated—two potential sources of holdup: the sunk costs the user has incurred ex ante to adopt the technology, and the “switching costs” of adopting an alternative ex post. This paper holds that the common source of holdup is neither sunk nor switching costs as such, but rather path dependence – and in particular the opportunistic exploitation of path dependence effects that magnify the value of the patented invention relative to the best available alternative. The paper, which can be found here, is structured as follows: Part II discusses the prior literature on patent holdup, along with the early literature on path dependence. Many commentaries on patent holdup confuse two important concepts – sunk and switching costs. A reader may reasonably…

Gregory J. Werden and Luke M. Froeb ‘Why Patent Hold-Up Does Not Violate Antitrust Law’ (forthcoming, Texas Intellectual Property Law Journal)

As the title indicates, this paper argues that patent hold-up, as courts and commentators define the term, does not undermine the competitive process and thus cannot give rise to a valid antitrust claim, at least in the US. The paper is available here and is structured as follows: Part II describes patent hold-up and sets out the economic framework employed by many antitrust intervention advocates. A relatively recent phenomenon is that important standards are encumbered by many—perhaps thousands—of Standard Essential Patents (SEPs). “Inventors” own SEPs and grant licences to them, while “implementers” manufacture or sell standard-compliant components or devices. Antitrust intervention advocates argue that these sunk costs permit inventors to engage in “opportunism” by demanding royalties that could “capture part of the fruits of another’s investment,” i.e., part of the sunk investment of implementers. This “opportunistic” behaviour by inventors is what generally is meant by the term “patent hold-up.” Out of a conviction that inventor opportunism is a serious problem, advocates of…

Jorge Contreras ‘Much Ado about Hold-Up’

This paper criticises the longstanding debate about patent holdup – and particularly about whether it is a systemic issue. In short, the paper argues that the ongoing hunt for empirical evidence of systemic patent hold-up in standardised product markets, or lack thereof, is a fruitless academic exercise. The paper can be found here and is structured as follows: Part I offers some essential background on standard setting and standards-essential patents. As I am sure we are now all fed up with this, I will skip it. Part II explores the interrelated questions that form the core of the current hold-up debate: how is hold-up defined, and what can empirical evidence tell us about hold-up in today’s technology-driven markets? The notion of economic hold-up originated with Oliver Williamson’s leading work on transaction costs and information asymmetry in the 1980s. The owners of specific assets are vulnerable to opportunistic behaviour by potential transaction partners who act dishonestly (e.g., by using deceptive means to…

Mark A. Lemley and Timothy Simcoe ‘How Essential Are Standard-Essential Patents?

This working paper, which can be found here, seeks to understand what happens when standard essential patents (SEPs) are litigated in court. The authors find that, contrary to expectations, courts are more likely to find that SEPs are valid patents than a matched set of litigated non-SEP patents. However, courts are also significantly less likely to find that SEPs were infringed. One of the reason for this seems to be that many SEPs are asserted in court by non-practicing entities (NPEs), and NPEs do much worse in court than other patent holders. This has interesting implications for policy debates about both SEPs and NPEs. Standard-essential patents may not be so essential after all, perhaps because companies tend to err on the size of over-disclosing patents to standard-setting organisations. On the other hand, the failure of NPEs to win cases concerning the validity of what are, prima facie, a strong set of patents raises interesting questions about the role that NPEs play…