Frank Maier-Rigaud and Benjamin Loertscher ‘Structural v Behavioural Remedies’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

Both antitrust and merger investigations at the EU level regularly conclude with the European Commission (“Commission”) accepting or imposing remedies. Despite the theories of harm underlying antitrust and merger investigations often being similar, if not identical, remedies in these two areas of competition law vary substantially. The predominance of behavioural remedies in antitrust cases stands in contrast to structural remedies relied upon in most merger investigations. This is surprising and begs the question of what are the factors driving the Commission’s remedies practice – which is the question that this paper, available here, seeks to address. Section II provides some background on the application of remedies under EU law. Under merger control, commitments accepted by the Commission “should be proportionate to the competition problem and entirely eliminate it.” Similarly, in antitrust enforcement the Commission can “impose any […] remedies which are proportionate to the infringement committed and necessary to bring the infringement effectively to an end”. The broadest classification for…

Russel Pittman ‘An Economist’s Thoughts on Behavioural Remedies in Merger Enforcement’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

This paper, available here, argues that, not only does the current consensus favour structural over behavioural remedies, but that the reasons supporting such a trend are stronger than we may have anticipated. Behavioural remedies may be even more complex and raise more complicated economic issues than has been previously appreciated. As such, competition agencies would do well to approach behavioural remedies with great care. The paper begins by outlining the consensus on merger remedies. There is by now a substantial literature examining US and EU experience in imposing merger remedies. A number of “lessons” seem to have become broadly accepted in recent years: (i) structural remedies are generally to be preferred over behavioural remedies; (ii) structural remedies should where possible include the divestiture of complete existing “business units”; (iii) structural remedies may sometimes need to be supported by behavioural measures, if only as a transition mechanism; (iv) the merging firms have clear incentives to seek buyers and/or to package assets…

John Kwoka ‘Conduct Remedies, with 2020 Hindsight: Have We Learned Anything in the Last Decade?’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

A decade ago, U.S. antitrust policy embarked on an experiment in expansive use of conduct remedies for mergers. Several major cases were settled with commitments that the merged firm – as a condition for approval of their mergers – would not engage in specific anticompetitive actions. However, a growing body of experience and research has found that conduct remedies are hard to write, even more difficult to enforce, and often simply ineffective. Despite this, over the past decade the agencies have not only failed to limit reliance on conduct remedies: they have continued to use them and even extended their use in more problematic directions. This essay, available here, discusses the flaws inherent in conduct remedies, before describing three recent cases that raise the question of whether anything has been learned from recent experience with such remedies Section II looks at the limitations of conduct remedies. Conduct remedies represent an effort to allow a merger to proceed while preventing anticompetitive…

John Kwoka and Tommaso Valletti ‘Scrambled Eggs and Paralyzed Policy: Breaking Up Consummated Mergers and Dominant Firms’

Competition policy has been no obstacle to the rise of dominant firms in e-commerce, social media, online search and other important aspects of the modern digital economy. The well-documented results of these trends are increasing market concentration, entrenched dominance, diminished competition and entry, and harm to consumers and businesses alike. Competition agencies, policymakers, academics, interest groups, and others have proposed various ways of addressing the weaknesses of past policy. Most of these proposed policies involve more vigorous application of conventional tools, which, however, are unable to address current levels of market concentration. However, the most obvious solution – breaking up such firms — is generally dismissed as impractical, the equivalent of trying to unscramble eggs. The authors disagree in this paper, available here. The rationale for breaking up companies is straightforward: where the essential competitive problem with a company is its structure, in the sense that its anticompetitive behaviour flows inexorably from that structure and is otherwise difficult to prevent,…

Mark A. Lemley and Andrew McCreary on ‘Exit Strategy’ 101 B.U. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2021)

The venture capital funding model that dominates the tech industry is focused on the “exit strategy”— the ways funders and founders can cash out their investment. While in common lore the exit strategy is an initial public offering (IPO), in practice IPOs are increasingly rare – they now account for fewer than 1 in 10 exits for start-ups, and happen later in a company’s life than they used to. Instead, most companies that succeed exit the market by merging with an existing firm. Innovative start-ups are especially likely to be acquired by the dominant firm in the market, particularly when they are venture funded, for a variety of reasons – because the dominant firms value the target’s technology, because they have lots and lots of money, or to eliminate a potential competitor who might leapfrog them in Schumpeterian competition. This paper argues that this focus on exit, particularly exit by acquisition, is pathological and one of the main reasons for…

Andre Minuto Rizzo ‘Digital Mergers: Evidence from the Venture Capital Industry Suggests That Antitrust Intervention Might Be Needed’ (2020) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice

There is a growing debate around the possible existence of a kill zone around tech titans. This is an area where venture capitalists will not finance start-ups because of fear of both exclusionary conduct and aggressive acquisition strategies by technology incumbents. This paper, available here, draws upon existing literature and antitrust agencies’ work, as well as data from the venture capital industry, to argue for the need to investigate the existence and magnitude of the kill zone, as well as its possible causes. Section II looks at evidence from the venture capital industry. Venture capital consists of equity investments in companies with innovative ideas characterised by both high growth potential and high risk of failure. Venture capitalists invest across different stages of the life cycle of start-up companies. Recent years have seen larger and later-stage deals, with funds being funnelled to fewer companies, many of which are large enough to be valued at over USD 1 billion, together with a…

Axel Gautier and Joe Lamesch ‘Mergers in the Digital Economy’ (2020) Information Economics and Policy

Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft (GAFAM) make huge investments in research and development, with a cumulated investment of over USD 71 billion in 2017. In addition to these important investments, GAFAM have engaged in extensive mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. Between 2015–2017, GAFAM acquired 175 companies, most of which seem to be young and innovative start-ups. Despite their intense merger activities and the vivid debates they generate, little is known about the the GAFAM’s merger strategies. With the exception of a report reviewing the CMA’s decision-making, there is no systematic analysis of the merger activity of the main digital platforms. This paper, available here, provides detailed information and statistics on the merger activity of GAFAM, and on the characteristics of the firms they acquire. Section 2 present the digital platforms’ business model. The authors identify the segments in which each GAFAM firm operates, i.e. the main categories of users they serve and the main revenue sources of each firm,…

Massimo Motta and Martin Peitz ‘Big Tech Mergers’

Big tech mergers occur frequently. The vast majority of such mergers were not reviewed by competition authorities, and those that were have been approved. Nonetheless, competition authorities and governments have become increasingly nervous at the perceived concentration in some digital markets, and at the persistent and increasing market power of some firms operating in digital industries. There is also concern that recent mergers were investigated using an inadequate methodology, possibly leading to wrong decisions. As a result, some of the (many) mergers in digital industries may well have favoured the entrenchment of large firms’ market positions. This paper, available here, explores this possibility, by developing a model and reviewing the main theories of harm that may apply to such mergers. Section 2 develops a simple model to address the possible anti- and pro-competitive effects of start up acquisitions by digital incumbents. This model provides some guidance as to what to expect from such acquisitions and as to the instances in…

Sai Krishna Kamepalli, Raghuram G. Rajan and Luigi Zingales ‘Kill Zones’ (2020) Working Papers 2020-19 Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics, University of Chicago

Digital platforms can acquire potential competitors, dissuading others from entering the market and protecting them against disruptive innovations. In a sense, digital incumbents create a “Kill Zone” around their areas of activity, which might discourage new investments. However, the idea that acquisitions discourage new investments is at odds with a standard economic arguments: if incumbents pay handsomely to acquire new entrants, why should entry be curtailed? Why would the prospect of an acquisition not be an extra incentive for entrepreneurs to enter the space, in the hope of being acquired at hefty multiples? This paper, available here, explores why high-priced acquisitions of entrants by an incumbent may not necessarily stimulate more innovation and entry in an industry (like that of digital platforms) where customers face switching costs and network externalities. The prospect of an acquisition by the incumbent platform undermines early adoption by customers, reducing prospective payoffs to new entrants. This creates a “kill zone” in the start-up space, as…

C. Scott Hemphill and Tim Wu on ‘Nascent Competitors’ (2020) University of Pennsylvania Law Review (forthcoming)

A nascent competitor is a firm whose prospective innovation represents a serious future threat to an incumbent. Nascent rivals play an important role in both the competitive process and in developing innovation. New firms with new technologies can challenge and even displace existing firms; sometimes, innovation by an unproven outsider may be the only way to provide new competition to an entrenched incumbent. For competition enforcers, nascent competitors pose a dilemma. While nascent competitors often pose a uniquely potent threat to an entrenched incumbent, the firm’s eventual significance is uncertain, given the environment of rapid technological change in which such threats tend to arise. That uncertainty, along with a lack of present, direct competition, may make enforcers and courts hesitant or unwilling to prevent an incumbent from acquiring or excluding a nascent threat. This essay, available here, identifies nascent competition as a distinct category and outlines a program of antitrust enforcement to protect it. It favours an enforcement policy that…