Bill Kovacic ‘Competition Policy Retrospective: The Formation of the United Launch Alliance and the Ascent of SpaceX’ (2020) George Mason Law Review

In May 2005, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced plans to form the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture which combined the only two suppliers of medium-to-heavy national security related launch services to the U.S. government. With input from the US Department of Defence (DOD), the FTC cleared the transaction. The FTC’s approval rested on two assumptions: that the efficiencies claimed by the merging parties were significant, and that the DOD and the NASA would use best efforts to facilitate entry into the launch services sector. This article, available here, examines the merger clearance decision and assesses the assumptions supporting this 2006 decision in light of subsequent experience. In short, those assumptions proved justified. ULA thus far has met the reliability expectations that guided the analysis of the DOD and the FTC. From its first days of operation through July 30 2020, ULA has made 140 launches without a failure. The venture has achieved and surpassed the reliability goals that…

Mark Glick, Catherine Ruetschlin and Darren Bush ‘Big Tech’s Buying Spree and The Failed Ideology Of Competition Law’ (forthcoming, Hastings Law Journal)

Big Tech is on a buying spree. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are gobbling up smaller companies at an unprecedented pace. Google has acquired 270 companies since 2001, including Android, YouTube, and Waze. Microsoft has made over 100 acquisitions in the last ten years, including acquisitions of Skype, Nokia Devices, LinkedIn and GitHub. Amazon has made a similar number of acquisitions. Facebook has acquired ninety companies. The law of competition is not ready for Big Tech’s endless appetite. This article, available here, shows how the extraordinary burden of proof required to prohibit a merger under the potential competition doctrine hobbles antitrust law and policy. It illustrates this problem with a close study of Facebook. The article assembles a database of Facebook’s completed acquisitions—ninety in all—and shows how the “potential competition” doctrine renders competition law entirely impotent to protect the consumer interest in this space. It further argues that, with à simple structural presumption, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)…

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…

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…

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…

Chris Pike and Pedro Caro de Sousa ‘How Soon Is Now: How to Deal with Uncertainty as regards Potential Competition in Merger Control’ Competition Law and Policy Debate (forthcoming)

While a short time frame of analysis can help build confidence in the conclusions reached on the likely effects of a transaction within that time frame, it misses potential harms and benefits related to longer-term potential competition. To correct this analytical deficiency requires the use of a longer time frame of analysis. However, with a longer time frame comes greater uncertainty on both probabilities and the magnitude of outcomes. Such prospective assessments often imply the balancing of probabilities by decision-makers, which are subject to substantive, evidentiary and practical constraints. In cases involving potential competition, this uncertainty is further heightened, to the point where meeting evidentiary standards designed for a short time frame analysis can become near impossible. This paper, available here, explores avenues to deal with uncertainty under merger control, and advances two proposals. First, one should ensure that the substantive standards for clearing and prohibiting a merger reflect not only the probability but also the potential magnitude of anti-…

Andrew Sweeting, Joel Schrag and Nathan Wilson ‘Not All Pre-Emptive Mergers Are Alike: A Classification of Recent Cases’ (2020) CPI October

There has been much recent debate about whether antitrust agencies have been sufficiently attentive to preemptive mergers, where one firm acquires another that it expects will become a more vigorous competitor in the future. The suggestion, sometimes described in terms of “killer acquisitions” (“kill zones”) or, less graphically, “the elimination of nascent competition”, is that agencies may have allowed transactions that, while perhaps not substantially reducing competition in the short-run, deprived consumers of lower prices, better products, and more variety in the future. It has been claimed that these types of mergers have been particularly common in certain sectors, such as the tech and pharmaceutical industries, but it is an open question whether these issues arise more generally. While these issues are important, the nature of the debate might lead people to believe that similar issues are raised by all preemptive merger cases. This paper by three economists at the FTC, available here, argues that this is wrong. It develops…

Giulio Federico, Fiona Scott Morton and Carl Shapiro ‘Antitrust and Innovation: Welcoming and Protecting Disruption’ in Innovation Policy and the Economy (eds. Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, NBER), Vol. 20, Chapter 4, 125

This paper, available here, focuses on the impact of competition policy on innovation. Disruptive firms drive a significant amount of innovation. By making its offer to customers attractive in a new way, a disruptive firm can destroy a great deal of incumbent profit while creating a large amount of consumer surplus. The resulting churn in products and market shares, as new products enter and old ones exit, and as newer business methods and business models supplant older ones, are typical of a healthy competitive process. If that competitive process is slowed or biased by mergers or by exclusionary conduct, innovation is lessened and consumers are harmed. Competition policy seeks to protect the competitive process by which disruptive firms challenge the status quo, despite the biggest firms being some of the most impressive innovators in many industries experiencing rapid technological change. Innovation is best promoted when market leaders are allowed to exploit their competitive advantages while also facing pressure to perform…