Friso Bostoen ‘Online platforms and vertical integration: the return of margin squeeze?’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 355

The main challenge with anticompetitive conduct by online multisided platforms is finding a fitting theory of harm. The author argues here that one candidate theory has been overlooked: margin squeeze. Margin squeeze, occurs where a dominant undertaking charges a price for the product on the upstream market which, compared to the price it charges on the downstream market, does not allow an equally efficient competitor to trade profitably in the downstream market on a lasting basis. In other words, margin squeeze takes place when an upstream operator forces his downstream competitor—who is just as efficient—off the market by squeezing his profit margins. This class of abuse has for the most part been confined to the telecom sector, but its potential reaches beyond. Indeed, the tendency towards vertical integration and subsequent conduct of online platforms could renew the relevance of margin squeeze as an analytical tool. The paper is structured as follows: Section II outlines the fundamental elements of margin squeeze. This section…

Patrick Todd ‘Intra-platform exclusion in software markets’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 409

This article, available here, analyses situations where platform operators design their platforms in a way that is liable to exclude intra-platform competitors. Exclusion in intra-platform markets require certain intricacies that existing theories of harm in antitrust law do not anticipate; thus, applying those theories unyieldingly is liable to cause confusion and result in judicial error. Authorities must formulate policies that detect anticompetitive exclusion without deterring innovation, and apply that policy consistently across comparable cases. Existing cases reveal that some authorities and courts have been taking a sensible approach to intra-platform exclusion, whereas others, especially in the EU, have shown a tendency to protect excluded intra-platform firms at the expense of consumer welfare. The paper is structured as follows: Section II defines software platforms and describes platform owners’ relationships with third-parties that distribute services through their platforms. Software platforms are code-based infrastructures that facilitate exchanges and transactions through the creation of one or multiple downstream ‘intra-platform’ markets. Through a platform, users can transact with…

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…

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…

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…

Thomas Vinje ‘Intellectual Property and Antitrust Review (3rd Edition) – Chapter 5 – European Union’ (The Law Reviews, 2018)

The task of the book to which this chapter belongs is to provide an annual practical overview of developments on the relationship between antitrust and intellectual property. This chapter, which can be found here, describes the competition / IP law interface in Europe. It is structured as follows: Section II is devoted to a review of developments that took place in 2017. The section begins with a succinct description of the Google cases, before turning to a discussion on standard essential patents (SEPs). It also reviews the European Commission’s Communication on ‘Setting out the EU approach to Standard Essential Patents’. The paper then briefly discusses e-commerce. It begins by mentioning the ECJ’s Coty decision and the Policy Brief prepared by the European Commission concerning this judgment. This Brief states that Coty provides more clarity and legal certainty to market participants by confirming previous case law and establishing a clear legal framework for online commerce. The paper also mentions the Commission’s e-commerce sector…

Jorge Padilla, Douglas H. Ginsburg and Koren W. Wong-Ervin ‘Antitrust Analysis Involving Intellectual Property and Standards: Implications from Economics’ (forthcoming, George Mason Law Review)

The paper, which can be found here, provides an overview of the economics of innovation and IP protection, licensing, and compulsory licensing, with specific applications to standards development and standard-essential patents. The authors also propose principles based on their economic analysis that courts and antitrust agencies can apply at each stage of an antitrust inquiry. The paper concludes with a summary of the approach to IP applied in China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, and the United States. The paper covers a lot of ground (and is quite long). I will try to summarise the argument as much as possible, but, to make it easier to read, I will also attempt to flag the specific topics addressed at each point, so that you may focus on those matters of greater interest to you. The paper is structured as follows: Section II summarises the relevant economic literature. While consumers gain from increases in static efficiency in the short run, economics teaches us…

Ariel Ezrachi on ‘EU Competition Law Goals and The Digital Economy’ (2018) Report for BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation

This paper  can be found here. I have already reviewed it in an earlier post. At the time, I focused on the article’s overview of the goals of EU competition law. However, the article also contained a detailed discussion of the impact that the digital economy may have on these goals. I was unable to review this discussion then, so I propose to do it here. Competition policy is one of several instruments used to advance the goals of the European Treaties. According to the European Commission, competition on the market is protected as a means of enhancing consumer welfare and of ensuring an efficient allocation of resources. This notwithstanding, EU competition law has also consistently been held to protect ‘not only the interests of competitors or of consumers, but also the structure of the market and, in so doing, competition as such.’ Moreover, a genuinely indigenous objective is worthy of note, namely that of promoting European market integration. In addition…

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…