Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Platforms and the Rule of Reason: The American Express Case’ (2019) Columbia Business Law Review, 1 34

In Ohio v. American Express Co. (“Amex”), the Supreme Court had its first explicit opportunity to apply the rule of reason to an allegedly anticompetitive practice on a two-sided platform– i.e. a business that depends on relationships between two different, noncompeting groups of transaction partners (e.g. newspapers, as regards readers and advertisers). This article, available here, considers how the rule of reason should be applied to an exclusionary practice on a platform market. It considers the rule of reason’s basic burden-shifting framework, unique elements of market delineation on platform markets, and the relevance of placing production complements into the same “market.” It criticises the Supreme Court’s unjustified conclusion that a market definition is necessary in an antitrust challenge to a vertical practice; its odd treatment of free rider problems; its lack of attention to the record and to economic analysis; and its confusion of total with marginal harms and benefits. Finally, it looks at the implications of the Court’s decision for market…

Pinar Akman on ‘Online Platforms, Agency and Competition Law: Mind the Gap’ (2019) 43 Fordham International Law Journal 209

The platform business model, inasmuch as it facilitates contracts between suppliers and customers, displays the qualities of an agency relationship more than any other commercial arrangement – and many platforms do indeed claim that they are mere agents. Since EU competition law does not apply to agreements between principals and agents – even where such agreements restrict competition – the implication would be that anticompetitive agreements between a platform and suppliers would fall outside the scope of, and could not be scrutinised by EU competition law. The same principle would apply to other competition system that adopts such an approach to agency (e.g. the US and many others). As a result, there is potentially a “platform gap” in the application of competition law in digital markets. This article, available here, argues that platforms’ relationships with their suppliers can be categorised as a principal-agent arrangement falling outside the scope of competition law. Since this “immunity” from competition law can have significant implications for…

Jay Matthew Strader ‘Google, Monopolization, Refusing to Deal and the Duty to Promote Economic Activity’ (2019) International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law 50(5) 559

Almost no consumers have the resources to assess the quality of information online. Search engines seek to remedy asymmetries in information, effectively providing a quality certification service to consumers. Google claims to rank organic results ‘‘scientifically’,’ based strictly on relevance and the quality of the listings. Ninety two percent of all Google search traffic occurs on the first page, encompassing the top ten organic results and paid ads, which reflects high levels of consumer trust.   This paper, available here, argues that Google’s search engine is indispensable for innumerable companies, which cannot compete effectively when Google fails to rank organic results according to relevance. However, Google’s ad-based business model creates incentives for it to promote paying advertisers or its own business, in particular by lowering the rank of more relevant results. This leads to lower quality in the search market, to lower output in downstream markets and, ultimately, to lower consumer welfare – independently of whether Google operates downstream or…

Giorgio Monti ‘Abuse of a Dominant Position: A Post-Intel Calm?’ (2019) Competition Policy International – Antitrust Chronicle March

The EU’s abuse of dominance doctrines have been criticised for two reasons. The first is their focus on the form of the conduct rather than on the relevant theory of harm; the second is that the law is applied to protect rivals of the dominant firm without requiring a showing that this would improve economic welfare. Several commentators considered that the Commission’s 2009 Guidance Paper on Exclusionary Abuses brought a paradigm shift to the analysis of Article 102, moving towards a more economics and effects’ based approach. A question that remained was how the courts would react to this. Some decisions – such as Post Danmark I – seemed to move towards the approach adopted in the Guidance Paper, while others – such as Telia Sonera or Post Danmark II – seemed to revert to a more expansive and formalistic approach to Article 102 TFEU. This paper, available here, asks whether the recent move back towards a more effects’ based…

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…

The Common Understanding of G7 Competition Authorities on “Competition and the Digital Economy”

While adopted on 5 June, this communique was embargoed until yesterday. It can now be found here. As it says on the tin, this document reflects the common position that the competition authorities in the G7 countries (namely, the Autoritá Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Italy), the Autorité de la Concurrence (France), the Bundeskartellamt (Germany), the Competition Bureau (Canada), the Competition and Markets Authority (United Kingdom), the Department of Justice (United States of America), the Directorate General for Competition (European Commission), the Federal Trade Commission (United States of America) and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (Japan)) have reached on the digital economy. It may come as no surprise that the level of agreement is relatively thin, and that the document does not go into the most controversial topics addressed in the reports reviewed last week and further below. The common understanding begins with the mandatory section on the benefits of the digital economy. Investment and innovation in the digital…

UK CMA’s Digital Market Strategy

The CMA’s Digital Market Strategy, available here, could be said to be a reaction to the Furman Report reviewed last week,  even if the official reaction took the form of a shorter and earlier letter to Government which can be found here. The paper begins by describing why digital markets are different and how the CMA sees its role in their respect. The underlying features of digital markets include substantial network effects, economies of scale and scope, the role of data and the computing power to use it, scope for personalisation, and market concentration. Most of these are not new individually, but in combination they are novel. Combined with the pace of change, it can be hard for both consumers and public authorities to keep up. Some of these features, or their effects, raise questions, including: firms’ use of people’s data; the market power or ‘gatekeeper’ status of certain platforms; use of increasingly sophisticated technology to target advertising; or the risk of so-called ‘killer acquisitions’. The…

Japan’s Interim Study on Digital Platforms and Fundamental Principles for Improvement of Rules Corresponding to the Rise of Digital Platform Businesses (sic) [Updated with correct link]

Japan published late last year an interim study on digital platforms and a number of Fundamental Principles for Improvement of Rules Corresponding to the Rise of Digital Platform Businesses (sic), both available here. The study, which was produced by a working group, is structured as follows. Section I and II review the characteristics of digital platforms and the legal regime to which they are subject. The study begins by outlining the characteristics of online platforms and the various benefits they bring in terms of innovation, ease of market entry and consumer welfare. The study also notes how digital platforms benefit from direct and indirect network effects and from economies of scale. These features can raise switching costs between different platforms, which would tend to facilitate monopolisation or oligopolisation. Further, once a business model based on using and accumulating data is established data, a virtuous cycle may be created, where the competitive advantage of such business is maintained and strengthened through further…

Italy’s Big Data Report

This is a report published by Italian competition authority, together with the telecommunications regulator and the data protection authority, on how to address big data. It is available here. In my analysis below, I will focus on the elements of the report that touch or focus on competition law. I would also emphasise that this is not the first competition authority in Europe to look at data – the joint Franco-German report in 2016 also looked at the intersection between competition and data. The decision to pursue an interdisciplinary study arose from a recognition that the characteristics of the digital economy are very often such that it touches on the competences of the three authorities. The relationship between competition, privacy and pluralism requires a particularly close coordination between different regulators, not only to ensure effective regulatory action but also to identify and reconcile possible trade-offs between the values protected by different regulatory schemes. Furthermore, joint action will allow a better understanding of…

UK Furman Report – Unlocking digital competition, Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel,

This Report, which can be found here, follows a review ordered by the UK’s Treasury to make recommendations on changes to competition and pro-competition policy to help unlock the opportunities of the digital economy. The report’s recommendations build on a number of propositions, namely that: the digital economy is creating substantial benefits; that a number of digital markets are prone to tipping and being ‘winner-takes-all’; market concentration in these markets both creates benefits and incurs costs; but government policy and regulation have limitations. In the light of this, the report found that the standard tools of competition policy, evaluating whether mergers can proceed and whether antitrust action is warranted to remedy abuses by companies, could play a role in helping to promote competition and the associated better outcomes for consumers and innovation. To do so, competition policy will need to be updated to address the novel challenges posed by the digital economy. Some of these updates can happen within current powers,…