Yannis Katsoulacos ‘Substantive Criteria and Legal Standards in Recent Abuse of Dominance Cases across the Atlantic’ (2019) CPI Antitrust Chronicle March

Legal standards in competition law fall across an analytical continuum whose boundaries are set, respectively, by categorical rules of condemnation (per se illegality) or acquittal (per se legality) on the one end, and an elaborate, fact-intensive assessment of reasonableness (Rule of Reason) on the other. These poles are connected by a range of intermediate tests that seek to combine some of the clarity and economy of bright-line rules with the greater analytical accuracy that a fuller examination of evidence can produce – e.g. in the US, the modified per se and the truncated effects based tests. This paper, available here, reviews a number of recent cases in high technology markets on both sides of the Atlantic (Intel, Google, QUALCOMM), to compare how abusive practices are treated in Europe and the US. Section II compares legal tests in the EU and the US. In the EU, there are multiple goals guiding antitrust enforcement. Under the influence of a strong Ordo-Liberal tradition, the…

Giuseppe Colangelo and Mariateresa Maggiolino ‘Applying Two-Sided Markets Theory: the MasterCard and American Express Decisions’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(1) 115

The first judgments to apply the economic theory of multisided markets to the payment card industry have been recently adopted in the UK and in the US. This paper, available here, uses these cases to try to show that antitrust authorities should take into consideration the two-sided nature of the credit-card industry, and to explain how this can be done. Taking the multisided nature of payment systems into account is necessary to arrive at a realistic description of these markets, and to develop solid theories of harm and procompetitive justifications that can explain some business practices involving credit cards. It is structured as follows: Section II briefly describes the main economic features of multisided business models. Different authors have defined multisided markets differently, as they looked at different markets and business models. Nonetheless, the following generic traits tend to characterise all such markets: the presence of indirect network externalities that cannot be internalised through a bilateral exchange (usage and membership…

Michael Carrier ‘The Four-Step Rule of Reason’ (2019) Antitrust 33(2)

US courts employ the rule of reason to assess a restraint’s effects on competition. Commentators have recently debated the predictability and appropriate structure of the analysis. However, at the same time as these nuances have been fleshed out in the literature, courts appear to have lost sight of first principles. This paper, available here, criticises recent developments in the US. It does so as follows: Section 2 looks at the background and analytical framework of the rule of reason. Some offences (like price fixing, bid rigging, and market sharing) are considered inherently anticompetitive and deemed automatically illegal without any scrutiny of actual competitive effects. In contrast, the vast majority of agreements are considered under the rule of reason. For much of the mid-20th century, antitrust courts applied mostly per se rules, even beyond hard-core cartels. That changed in the 1970s with the introduction of economic analysis, which led to the rule of reason beginning to be applied in earnest. However,…

Douglas Ginsburg and John Taladay about ‘The Enduring Vitality of Comity in a Globalized World’ (2017) George Mason Law Review 24 1069

Different competition agencies apply different legal standards, procedures and approaches to identifying and redressing perceived antitrust violations. One inescapable consequence of the global proliferation of competition regimes is a much greater risk of conflict, which can take various forms and which are particularly high when an agency applies an “effects” doctrine that allows for the imposition of remedies that necessarily have an effect beyond that jurisdiction’s own borders. This article, available here,  identifies a deficit in the international coordination mechanisms that are available, and proposes an expanded use of traditional comity to ensure that international competition law enforcement produces benefits for consumers while minimising unnecessary and inappropriate interference with the legitimate interests of foreign jurisdictions. Section I looks at how the difference in the substantive standards applied by different jurisdictions can be a source of potential international conflict. A key source of tension in international competition law enforcement emanates from differences in the substantive standards applied by different jurisdictions. The…

Angela Huyue Zhang ‘Strategic Comity’ (2019) Yale Journal of International Law 44(2)

The extent to which US courts should enforce antitrust laws against state-led export cartels has been the subject of intense debate among academics, courts and policymakers for decades. While defendants often invoke the state compulsion defence, which is based on comity and respect for foreign sovereigns, these doctrines have long been criticised for their ambiguity and inconsistent application. The recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Chinese state-led Vitamin C cartel – reviewed here – highlights a number of challenges with the way these doctrines have been applied in the US. The author’s argument in this paper, available here, is that the application of both comity and foreign state compulsion defences are susceptible to political considerations, and that the Supreme Court decision is a good example of this. The author argues that the Supreme Court proactively solicited the opinion of the executive branch before hearing its case, and its final ruling is exactly in line with the opinions and suggestions proposed…

Douglas Ginsburg and Cecilia (Yixi) Cheng  ‘The Decline in U.S. Criminal Antitrust Cases’ George Mason University Law & Economics Research Paper Series 19-31 (Forthcoming in Liber Amicorum Albert A. Foer (2020) Nicolas Charbit et al. (eds)

Criminal cartel prosecutions are at modern lows in the U.S. The authors of this paper, available here, offer three non-exclusive hypotheses for this decline: (1) increasingly large fines in multiple jurisdictions have lessened the incentive to apply for leniency in any one jurisdiction; (2) technology has caused the substitution of lawful tacit for unlawful express collusion; and (3) competition policy has succeeded in deterring cartel formation – at least among U.S. companies. Copyright: FT While the available data is too limited to reach a definite conclusion, it seems to support the third hypothesis: since 2008, investigations have focused predominantly on foreign companies, while both the number and share of investigated U.S. companies have decreased. This is consistent with the hypothesis that U.S. competition policy has been effective in deterring anti-competitive conduct by US companies. Section II describes the recent downward trend in cartel prosecutions. The number of criminal cases filed annually by the DoJ decreased from 90 in 2011 to 18 in…

Daniel Sokol ‘Reinvigorating Criminal Antitrust?’ (2019) William & Mary Law Review 60 1545

A number of non-cartel antitrust infringements remain crimes under US law, even if they are not prosecuted in practice. This article, available here, deals with the implications of recent claims for increased antitrust enforcement for the application of such provisions.  A natural extension of enforcement would be to advocate the use of criminal sanctions for various antitrust violations outside of collusion which are “on the books” but have not been used in over a generation. The article argues that a return to the criminalisation of non-collusion related antitrust abuses is problematic not only as a matter of optimal deterrence, but also unconstitutional as a matter of law. Section one describes how antitrust criminalisation is a form of achieving deterrence. Antitrust enforcement builds on models of optimal deterrence. Under an optimal deterrence antitrust framework, a firm or individual will be deterred where the expected costs of illegal activity, taking into account the probability of detection and magnitude of the penalties, exceed…

Cyril Ritter ‘Antitrust in two-sided markets: looking at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Amex case from an EU perspective’ Journal of European Competition Law & Practice (2019, forthcoming)

As reviewed in last week’s email/posts, the U.S. Supreme Court recently found that American Express’s ‘anti-steering’ rules did not violate U.S. antitrust law (in a decision reviewed here). In its judgment, the Supreme Court addressed a variety of topics essential to antitrust analysis – market definition, two-sided markets, harm through price effects and output effects, cross-market efficiencies and ancillary restraints – in ways which are at odds with the European approach. This paper, available here, seeks to compare the EU and US approaches in this respect.   It is structured as follows: Section three contains a comparison of the AmEx majority and dissenting opinions. In the interest of clarity, I will review it here, instead of following the paper’s structure. In Ohio v American Express, the majority held that only one market should be defined in two-sided transaction markets. Because there is a single relevant market, cognisable harm must refer to net harm across merchants and cardholders. Even demonstrating that the benefits…

Dennis Carlton ‘The Anticompetitive Effects of Vertical Most-Favored-Nation Restraints and the Error of Amex’ (2019) Columbia Business Law Review 88

Ohio v American Express involved the use of what are called “no steering” restraints, in which a retailer is not allowed to use a variety of tactics to steer a consumer away from using an American Express (“Amex”) card and towards using another payment mechanism, such as money or competing payment cards. The reason why a merchant might want to do this is because the cost that the merchant incurs when a customer uses an Amex card can be higher than when the customer uses another credit card, debit card or cash. Although not challenged in the case, the Amex contractual rules also prevent a retailer from imposing a surcharge on customers who use an Amex card to reflect the higher merchant cost. The contractual clause at stake in this case was a type of vertical most-favoured-nation (‘MFN’) restraint, i.e. a restraint in which one supplier tells a retailer that the retailer cannot set the retail price of its product…

Joshua Wright and John Yun ‘Burdens and Balancing in Multisided Markets: The First Principles Approach of Ohio v. American Express’ (2019) Review of Industrial Organization

This article, available here, argues, contrary to the arguments made in the piece above, that the Supreme Court decided the Ohio v American Express case correctly. Multisided platforms have distinct and critical features that set them apart from single-sided markets. Any prima facie antitrust assessment of competitive harm must incorporate the impact on consumers in all sides of a market regardless of market definition, and output effects should be the primary emphasis of any such competitive effects analysis. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 identifies two broad schools of thought on market definition and competitive effects for multisided platforms. There is a divide among antitrust practitioners, courts, and economists regarding how multisided platforms should be assessed in antitrust investigations. A first school advocates for a separate effects and markets’ approach. Because users on different sides of a platform have different economic interests, it is inappropriate to view platform competition as being for a single-product offered at a single (i.e., net,…