Vincenzo Denicolò and Michele Polo ‘The innovation theory of harm: An appraisal’ IEFE Working Papers 103

The relationship between competition and innovation has been explored by a large amount of literature, both theoretical and empirical. Despite this, general results remain elusive. In the light of this, antitrust authorities have generally refrained from taking extreme stances and followed a cautious approach. Intervention has been limited mainly to cases in which the merging firms’ innovative products are close to the commercialisation stage, where  innovation outcomes have been regarded as sufficiently predictable as to be amenable to standard analysis. But policy seems to be changing. The European Commission has gradually shifted the focus of its dynamic merger analysis from product pipelines to “innovation markets or spaces”. This article, available here, argues that the theoretical foundations of innovation theories of harm are too fragile to provide the bases for radical policy changes. Antitrust authorities and the courts should continue to consider the impact of horizontal mergers on innovation by bearing in mind that effects can go either way. Section 2…

Bruno Jullien and Yassine Lefouili ‘Horizontal Mergers and Innovation’ (2018) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 14(3) 364

This is another example of an early paper criticising the assumptions of those arguing for more stringent enforcement against mergers that may affect innovation – this time focusing on the potential for efficiencies brought about by such mergers. While not new, the debate on the effect of mergers on innovation has been particularly lively in Europe since the European Commission’s broadened its innovation theory of harm, starting with Dow/DuPont. The reasons behind this debate lie in the opposite effects that mergers can have on firms’ incentives to invest in R&D. This paper, available here, argues that merger control should be a priori neutral as to the innovation effects of horizontal mergers, since the overall effect of a merger on innovation can be either positive or negative depending on the circumstances. The paper further identifies a number of key factors which influence the impact of mergers on innovation. In particular, it suggests that a positive relationship between mergers and innovation is…

Jorge Padilla on ‘Revisiting the Horizontal Mergers and Innovation Policy Debate’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 10(6) 370

The Dow/DuPont merger launched an economic debate about the effects of horizontal mergers on innovation. Underpinning these debates are a number of points of agreement, beginning with consensus over the debate on the relationship between competition and innovation not being directly transferable to the effect of horizontal mergers. There are also a number of shared conclusions regarding merging firms’ ability and incentive to innovate when those firms compete in developing new products (product innovation) or in reducing their costs (process innovation). Such mergers may give rise to various efficiencies and increase the merging parties’ ability to innovate, but they can also influence the parties’ incentives to engage in R&D and implement their innovations. Ultimately, whether a merger leads to more innovation will depend on the nature and relative magnitude of the positive and negative externalities that the investments made by one party generate on the other. Where there seems to be no agreement, however, is on the implications of the…

Giulio Federico ‘Horizontal Mergers, Innovation and the Competitive Process’ (2017) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 8(10)

Recent merger decisions have revived the debate on the role of innovation in merger control. The theory of harm put forward by competition authorities in these recent merger cases posits that a merger between rival innovators may lessen competition not only because of a reduction in (static) competition on current products, but also because of a lessening of (dynamic) competition on future products. According to this theory of harm, the loss of future competition may, at least in part, stem from a reduction in innovation. This article, available here, reviews the debate on the relationship between horizontal mergers and innovation up to this point (i.e. 2017). I think it provides a good overview of the various arguments invoked to subject mergers affecting innovation to more stringent scrutiny during a first stage of the debate. Section II offers a succinct historical account of economic thinking on the relationship between competition and innovation. Innovation theories of harm in merger control are premised…

Justus Haucap, Alexander Rasch and Joel Stiebale on ‘How mergers affect innovation: Theory and evidence’ (2019) International Journal of Industrial Organization 63 283

This article, available here, argues that a complete analysis of potential efficiencies from mergers should not only analyse how the merged entity’s prices, quantities and innovation incentives change (i.e., the direct effects of a merger), but also how these change for rival firms (indirect effects). While competition authorities sometimes analyse how mergers directly affect the merged firm’s innovation incentives, especially in high-tech industries, impacts on rivals’ innovation incentives have been rarely mentioned in merger guidelines or competition cases. This is unfortunate, since the effects of mergers on innovation in the relevant market depend on the reactions of non-merging competitors. While there is a growing literature on the effects of mergers on the innovation of the merging firms, evidence on the effects of mergers on outsiders’ innovation incentives is scarce. Thus, this paper studies how horizontal mergers affect the innovation efforts of both the merged entity and its non-merging competitors. Using data on horizontal mergers among pharmaceutical firms in Europe, it…

Friso Bostoen ‘Online Platforms and Pricing: Adapting abuse of dominance assessments to the economic reality of free products’ (2019) Computer Law and Security Review 35 263

What sets platforms apart is their possibility to effectively cross-subsidise between the different user groups that are party to a transaction. Platforms often treat one side as a profit centre and the other as a loss leader, or, at best, as financially neutral. As a result, platforms must choose not only a price level, but also a price structure for their service. Given this,  the present article, available here, explores how potentially abusive behaviour involving free products (both goods and services) can be assessed under competition law. Section II looks at different dimensions of offering free goods and services. Free online offerings have become ubiquitous. This reflects lower costs brought about by the existing digital infrastructure (e.g. processing power, bandwidth, storage). However, companies still want to make a profit. In practice, offering services for free has the potential to attract the critical mass of customers that will allow a company to maximise its profits across its various products. There are three…

Ariel Ezrachi and Viktoria Robertson ‘Competition, Market Power and Third-Party Tracking’ (2019) World Competition 42(1) 5

Trackers on our websites and apps enable multi-sourced data gathering. While numerous operators engage in tracking, a small number of data giants controls the majority of these trackers. This article, available here, considers the rise and growth of this industry, the power it has bestowed on a handful of platforms, and the possible implications for consumer welfare and competition. Section 2 describes the pervasiveness of third-party tracking. Third-party tracking is a mechanism through which a company (the third-party tracker) hooks onto another (first-party) website or application and collects identifiable data about users, enabling the tracker to build a comprehensive profile about these users. Tracking may occur both actively and passively. It may offer generic information on usage and webpage visits, or combined and analysed information which enables the identification of the individual. The gathering of personalised data – through third-party tracking or otherwise – is primarily relied upon for four purposes in the digital realm: to provide data-based (i.e. individualized or targeted)…

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…