Antitrust Writing Awards (and a bit of self promotion)

This week, due to technical issues (and a bank holiday in France), I am unable to circulate any reviews. However, I would like to refer you to the papers selected by Concurrences for the Antitrust Writing Awards 2021 – they cover virtually all of current antitrust debates, and are typically very good. I say typically because I have a paper of my own nominated, and that may lower the level a bit – ‘The three body problem – Extraterritoriality, comity and cooperation in competition law‘, to be published in a coming book. I would of course appreciate it if you could vote for it, but, more importantly, this is a good occasion to suggest you may want to read it. All comments are welcome. And if anyone detects the science fiction reference, you have my respect. You can find the paper here. The abstract is as follows: Understanding the extraterritorial effect of competition law raises challenges akin to the three…

Elena Argentesi, Paolo Buccirossi, Emilio Calvano, Tomaso Duso, Alessia Marrazzo and Salvatore Nava ‘Merger Policy in Digital Markets: An Ex Post Assessment’ (2021) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 17(1) 95

This paper, available here, presents a broad retrospective evaluation of mergers and merger decisions in markets dominated by multisided digital platforms. It identifies almost 300 acquisitions carried out by three major tech companies— Amazon, Facebook, and Google—between 2008 and 2018, looks at the business logic behind these transactions, and explores the theories of harm that have been used or, alternatively, could have been formulated by authorities. The paper then retrospectively examines two important merger cases, Facebook/Instagram and Google/Waze, providing a systematic assessment of the theories of harm considered by the UK competition authority, as well as evidence on the evolution of the market after the transactions were approved. Section II looks at the wealth of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) carried out by key digital platforms between 2008 and 2018. Companies active in digital markets are remarkably active in M&A, constantly seeking out interesting start-ups and purchasing them. Between 2008 and 2018, Google acquired 168 companies, Facebook acquired 71 companies, and…

Andrew P McLean ‘A Financial Capitalism Perspective on Start-Up Acquisitions: Introducing the Economic Goodwill Test’ (2021) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 17(1) 141

In recent decades, major technology firms have acquired hundreds of nascent companies. Between 1987 and 2019, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (GAFAM) acquired over 700 companies. There have been over 430 acquisitions in the last ten years alone. The acquisition of start-ups by major technology firms poses a significant anticompetitive threat, yet such transactions often escape competition scrutiny because they fail to trigger merger notification thresholds. This paper, available here, provides a financial analysis of historic acquisitions by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Acquisitions in the digital economy are typically characterised by astronomical transaction values relative to the stature of the acquired firm—targets are typically young, lacking in tangible assets and yet to earn significant revenues. Given this, the paper introduces a new merger notification threshold — the economic goodwill test. The economic goodwill test is a concerned with the value of a target’s net tangible assets as a proportion of total transaction value. The difference between these…

Magali Eben and Viktoria Robertson ‘The Relevant Market Concept in Competition Law and Its Application to Digital Markets: A Comparative Analysis of the EU, US, and Brazil’ (2021) Graz Law Working Paper No 01-2021

Market definition is a core analytical tool that helps in the assessment of anti-competitive agreements, unilateral conduct and mergers. However, the difficulty of delineating a relevant market with the required predictability in digital markets has led some to question whether market definition can continue to fulfil its traditional functions in these dynamic market environments. The present contribution, available here, first surveys the general approach to market delineation in the EU, the US and Brazil. Against this background, it then embarks on a discussion of market definition in digital markets in each of these jurisdictions, with a particular focus on multi-sided markets, zero-price services and the concept of digital ecosystems. Section 2 surveys the general approach to market delineation in the EU, US and Brazil. The main parameters of market definition are strikingly similar in the EU, the US and Brazil. All these competition laws heavily rely on the relevant market as an analytical tool. However, while market definition is mainly…

Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Digital Cluster Markets’ (2021)

Many antitrust violations require proof of market power. Historically, the way antitrust litigants and courts have estimated power is by determining a market share of a properly defined “relevant market” of substitutable products. However, many firms sell more than a single product and, frequently, sell non-competing products. The possibility of aggregating noncompeting products or services leads to the creation of “cluster markets” consisting of noncompeting goods. Antitrust claims are often made regarding such clusters. It then becomes important to ask when it is sensible to locate power in the cluster itself, rather than in the simple presence of any particular item. This paper, available here, argues that clustering noncompeting products into a single market for purposes of antitrust analysis can be valuable, provided that the limitations of such an approach are understood. Clustering contributes to market power only when it is found, cumulatively, that: (1) many customers need or at least prefer the convenience of receiving the defendant’s grouping of…

Özlem Bedre-Defolie and Rainer Nitsche ‘When Do Markets Tip? An Overview and Some Insights for Policy’ (2020) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 11(10) 610

Competition authorities are increasingly concerned that their tools are not fit to deal with digital multi-sided platforms, which operate in markets that have a tendency to ‘tip’. However, the academic literature does not yet provide guidance on how to identify the likelihood of tipping in a market. Instead, the literature identifies a number of factors that might foster or mitigate tipping under certain circumstances. This paper, available here, reviews the literature and identifies the key market characteristics that facilitate tipping and those that mitigate it. It also advances four key questions to guide policy makers in the development of methods to identify the likelihood of tipping. Section 2 discusses factors that facilitate market tipping. The authors identify six key factors that foster tipping in markets with multisided platforms: positive network effects, single-homing and switching costs, free services, data-enabled learning, trust, and platforms’ complementary offerings. Markets with multisided platforms typically also exhibit classical factors that foster concentration, like economies of scale…

Herbert Hovenkamp ‘Antitrust and Platform Monopoly’ (2021) 130 Yale L.J

Should antitrust policy do more to promote competition in digital platform markets? Is antitrust law sufficient to address competition problems in digital platforms, or are those problems so common and widespread that they require more pervasive public control? This article, available here, argues that sustainable competition in platform markets is possible, and that the individualised approach of the antitrust laws is better for consumers and most other affected interest groups than more intrusive regulation. Antitrust intervention will be less likely to reduce product or service quality, limit innovation, or reduce output than other regulatory alternatives. To achieve these outcomes, antitrust law needs to treat digital platform markets for what they are: markets that have some unique characteristics, but markets nonetheless. As a result, for the most part competition problems in them can be controlled with the antitrust tools we have. Section I considers digital platform monopoly. Antitrust policy is concerned with exercises of market power. The power question for digital…

Niamh Dunne ‘Platforms as Regulators’ (2020) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement

The contention that certain digital platforms act as ‘regulators’ within the context of their own business models, and are subject to specific obligations under competition law as a result, is a key basis upon which authors have argued for a wide-ranging duty for dominant platforms to secure competition that is ‘fair, unbiased and pro-users’. This article, available here, seeks to shed light on this contention, exploring its meaning and the implications for platform operators. Consideration is further given to whether the platforms-as-regulators notion aligns with alternative modes of regulation in the digital sphere. Section II introduces the idea of platforms-as-regulators. Increasing emphasis is being placed on the ‘gatekeeper’ role that platforms may play by controlling access to certain market segments or customers groups, thus rendering them an unavoidable fixture within digital ecosystems. By selecting (and enforcing) the platform policies and rules that delimit the parameters of competitive interaction within their own ecosystems, online platforms essentially ‘regulate’ these spheres, and thus…

Christopher Yoo on ‘Unpacking Data Portability’ (2020) Competition Policy International

Data portability has become a hot topic in competition law. Legislators and enforcement officials around the world have shown increasing interest in data portability as a competition law remedy. Although some commentators have suggested that data portability represents low hanging fruit compared with more complex remedies such as interoperability, the debate about how to implement any such mandate remains underdeveloped. This paper, available here, argues that data portability is not a panacea, and that enforcement officials will have to engage in the type of nuanced, fact-specific determinations that characterise classic antitrust analysis. Section 2 points out that not all data are created equal. To date, discussions have largely treated data as a monolithic phenomenon without drawing any distinctions among particular types of data and their different uses. Although advocacy rhetoric tends to talk about “big” data, the trade press repeatedly emphasises that size is not the only thing that matters. The most famous formulation claims that data consists of three…

Vikas Kathuria and Jure Globocnik ‘Exclusionary conduct in data-driven markets: limitations of data sharing remedies’ (2020) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 8 511

By depriving its rivals of gaining scale in data, a dominant player can successfully exploit demand-side scale economies, i.e. network effects, to its benefit in a two-sided market. In effect, dominant undertakings may be able to exclude their rivals from accessing user data and thus deprive them of scale in markets that are characterised by network effects. In the face of exclusionary conduct by a dominant undertaking in data-driven markets, a critical question relates to the nature of the remedy that can offset the harm to consumer welfare and restore competition. Intuitively, mandating a delinquent dominant undertaking to share wrongly withheld data appears to be an optimal remedy. This article, , available here, analyses the viability of mandatory data sharing as a remedy to restore competition in the affected market – and concludes that mandatory data sharing is not the optimal solution to remedy loss to consumer welfare. Section 2 considers the objectives of remedies in EU competition law. To…