Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, Vincenzo Denicol and Sergio Pastorello ‘Artificial Intelligence, Algorithmic Pricing and Collusion’ Centre for Economic Policy Research, London

Algorithmic pricing is not new, but newer software programs are much more “autonomous” than their precursors. Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), pricing algorithms can develop their pricing strategies from scratch, engaging in active experimentation and adapting to the evolving environment. In this learning process, they require little or no external guidance. Taken together with the diffusion and evolution of pricing algorithms, these developments raise various issues for competition policy, particularly as regards tacit collusion. While so far no one has brought an antitrust case against autonomously colluding algorithms, antitrust agencies are discussing the problem seriously. In addition to the OECD, competition authorities in the US, Canada and UK have held roundtable or issued papers on the topic. This paper, available here, tries to understand whether tacit collusion arising from AI should be a real concern by looking, for the first time, at the emergence of collusive strategies among autonomous pricing algorithms. It takes an experimental approach, by constructing AI pricing agents and…

Jonathan Baker and Fiona Scott Morton on ‘Antitrust Enforcement against Platform MFNs’ (2018) Yale Law Journal 127 2176

 . This paper, available here, argues for more vigorous antitrust enforcement against Most Favoured Nation (MFN) provisions in the platform context. A MFN clause requires providers to refrain from offering their products or services at lower prices on other platforms. During the past two decades, antitrust enforcement against MFN provisions has grown, particularly in Europe. In contrast, there have been almost no enforcement actions against platform MFNs in the United States. The authors make a number of proposals to reverse this trend. The article is structured as follows: Part I shows how platform MFNs can harm competition and consumers, despite their potential competitive benefits. The authors’ draw on the economics’ literature on the effects of MFNs generally, and platform MFNs in particular. Simple MFNs commit sellers not to discount selectively, which assures covered buyers that they will be charged the lowest price offered by the seller. At first blush, one might expect this provision to lead to lower prices for covered buyers….

Chiara Caccinelli and Joëlle Toledano, focuses ‘Assessing Anticompetitive Practices in Two-sided Markets: The Booking.com cases’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(2) 193

This paper, which can be found here, aims to shed light on the different approaches adopted by different European antitrust authorities to assess the allegedly anticompetitive MFN practices of a platform operating in a two-sided market. This is done by means of a law-and-economics analysis of the different approaches to Booking.com by competition authorities in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, with an eye to discussing the specific difficulties raised by two-side market economics. The paper is structured as follows: Section II presents the key features of two-sided markets economics. Two-sided markets present some peculiar traits, which distinguish them from more “traditional” markets. Firms operating in these markets serve more than one group of consumers simultaneously and offer them the opportunity, as well as an interface, for fruitful exchanges. These value-enhancing interactions generate important direct and indirect network externalities among the groups, which platforms would typically aim to internalise. As a result, platform profitability depends not so much on the price level…

Jorge Padilla and John Davies ‘Another look at the economics of the UK CMA’s Phenytoin case’ in Excessive Pricing and Competition Law Enforcement (ed. Yannis Katsoulacos and Frédéric Jenny, 2018, Springer)

In this book chapter, the authors criticise the CMA for relying on the same evidence of a gap between prices and costs in its assessment of each of market definition, dominance and abuse. When coupled with the absence of analysis of comparator prices – which, the authors argue, the CMA replaced with a failed search for justifications for a price-cost gap when finding that the price was ‘unfair in itself’ – this could serve as a precedent for a fragile and unreliable approach to assessing excessive pricing. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 describes the framework for assessing excessive pricing under European law (and its British equivalent). The paper builds on United Brands‘ two-step test, and particularly the requirement that am excessive price must exceed the “economic value” of the product to such an extent that the price bears “no reasonable relation” with that value. The legal test set out by the ECJ is as follows. First, the test…

Margherita Colangelo and Claudia Desogus ‘Antitrust Scrutiny of Excessive Prices in the Pharmaceutical Sector: A Comparative Study of the Italian and UK Experiences’ (2018) World Competition 41(2) 225

This article, which can be found here,  pursues a comparative analysis of the recent case law on excessive pricing in the pharmaceutical sector, examining in particular the Italian and UK experience. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 begins with a brief review of the existing literature on excessive prices in the EU. This section reviews the arguments for and against competition authorities intervening when prices are too high. On the one hand, it is argued that high prices should not be the subject of competition law intervention because such intervention may affect innovation incentives and dynamic efficiency; because high prices will attract competitors and, hence, will tend to self-correct; because there are high probabilities and costs of mistaken intervention; and because this is a task that should be left to specialised regulators. On the other hand, it is argued that correcting high prices directly increases consumer welfare, which is the goal of competition law; that high prices are not…

Harry First ‘Excessive Drug Pricing as an Antitrust Violation’ (forthcoming on the Antitrust Law Journal)

In the US, there have been antitrust enforcement efforts against various pharmaceutical practices that elevate price above the competitive level, such as reverse payments (or pay-for-delay), product hopping, and collusion among generic drug manufacturers. However, the conventional wisdom is that U.S. antitrust laws do not forbid high prices simpliciter. This paper argues that the conventional wisdom may be mistaken: Section 1 engages in a general discussion of the problem of high prices and provides two examples of a non-antitrust approach to this problem. The standard antitrust/welfare economics paradigm condemns high prices at least on the grounds of resource misallocation and deadweight welfare loss. Many scholars go beyond deadweight welfare loss concerns, condemning monopoly pricing because of the redistribution of the consumer surplus from consumers to producers, but some are indifferent to this redistribution. There is an additional argument that can be made against high prices, but it is one to which antitrust is often indifferent: high prices can be seen…

Frederick Abbott ‘Excessive Pharmaceutical Prices and Competition Law: Doctrinal Development to Protect Public Health’ (2016) UC Irvine Law Review 6 281

This paper can be found here. At the time it was written, competition law had rarely been used to address “excessive pricing” of pharmaceutical products. This was a worldwide phenomenon. In the United States, federal courts have refused to apply excessive pricing as an antitrust doctrine, either with respect to pharmaceutical products or more generally. Courts in some other countries have been more receptive to considering the doctrine, but application of the doctrine has been sporadic at best, including with respect to pharmaceuticals. Against this, the author argues that competition law and policy should develop robust doctrine to address excessive pricing in markets lacking adequate control mechanisms against exploitative behaviour. The article focuses specifically on the pharmaceutical sector because of its unique structure and social importance. This piece is divided into two parts. The first addresses competition policy and why it is appropriate to develop a doctrine of excessive pricing to address distortions in the pharmaceutical sector. The second part addresses…

Jose Luis da Cruz Vilaca on ‘The intensity of judicial review in complex economic matters – recent competition law judgments of the Court of Justice of the EU’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6(2) 173–188

The author of this paper, available here, was for a long time the President of the Court of First Instance (now the ECJ’s General Court). More importantly for our purposes here, he was also the CJEU judge responsible for drafting the Intel judgment. The paper is structured as follows: A first section reviews how EU courts approach judicial review in complex matters, and how this approach has evolved over time. For a number of years, the Court of Justice (ECJ) has taken a careful approach to the scope and intensity of review of Commission decisions as regards complex economic matters. From the outset, the Court conceived its role in competition matters as being limited to reviewing legality, and not as involving unlimited jurisdiction or full merits review (except as regards the imposition of fines). Since Consten & Grunding in 1966, the ECJ has acknowledged that the Commission must engage in complex evaluations of economic matters. The judicial review of these evaluations…

Kai-Uwe Kuhn and Miroslava Marinova ‘The Role of the As-Efficient-Competitor After the CJEU judgment in Intel’ (2018) Competition Law and Policy Debate 4(2) 63

Before I begin my review, a disclaimer is in order: one of the authors was my student – the one who was not until recently the Chief Economist of the European Commission’s DGComp –, and this paper builds on her PhD. The paper – which can be found here – focuses on the relevance of the AEC test for the identification of abuses of a dominant position. It reads the Intel decision as creating a rebuttable presumption of illegality of exclusivity rebates, and as requiring the Commission to examine Intel’s arguments on whether the loyalty rebates could exclude an equally efficient competitor from the market. It also considers that the CJEU confirmed that the AEC test is the relevant benchmark to assess such a rebuttal. At the same type, the authors consider that the judgment raises a number of issues: (i) whether the AEC is an appropriate conceptual benchmark to identify anticompetitive conduct; (ii) in the light of the previous…

Pablo Ibáñez Colomo ‘The Future of Article 102 TFEU after Intel’ (2018) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(5) 293

The author identifies two main takeaways from the Intel decision: (i) as a matter of principle, Article 102 TFEU is only concerned with the exclusion of rivals that are as efficient as the dominant firm. The departure from the market of rivals that are less attractive in terms of, inter alia, price, quality or innovation is deemed to be a natural outcome of the competitive process and as such unproblematic; (ii) practices are only caught by Article 102 TFEU insofar as they are capable of having anticompetitive effects. By the same token, it should always be possible for a dominant firm to provide evidence showing that, in the context in which it is implemented, the practice is incapable of having such effects. The article – which can be found here – seeks to explore these elements in more detail. It is structured as follows: Section II reviews the case and its background. I am not going to do that here (again), but it…