Carsten Koenig ‘Comparing Parent Company Liability in EU and US Competition Law’ (2018) World Competition 41(1) 69

This paper, available here , contrasts how law parent companies can be fined for antitrust infringements by their subsidiaries under EU competition law, while courts in the US are reluctant to hold parent companies directly or indirectly liable in private damages suits. The author argues that one of the main reasons why EU competition law holds parent companies liable is to solve an under-deterrence problem that occurs when subsidiaries lack sufficient assets to pay fines or damages. US antitrust law uses other enforcement instruments to address under-deterrence by, in particular the individual liability of managers and employees. The article consists of four substantive parts: In section 2, the paper reviews the case law and literature on parent company liability for antitrust infringements by subsidiaries in the European Union and the United States. In the EU, the single economic entity doctrine is deeply ingrained in competition law. The European court interprets the concept of ‘undertaking’ in a functional way: it is the economic entity…

Douglas Ginsburg and Cecilia (Yixi) Cheng  ‘The Decline in U.S. Criminal Antitrust Cases’ George Mason University Law & Economics Research Paper Series 19-31 (Forthcoming in Liber Amicorum Albert A. Foer (2020) Nicolas Charbit et al. (eds)

Criminal cartel prosecutions are at modern lows in the U.S. The authors of this paper, available here, offer three non-exclusive hypotheses for this decline: (1) increasingly large fines in multiple jurisdictions have lessened the incentive to apply for leniency in any one jurisdiction; (2) technology has caused the substitution of lawful tacit for unlawful express collusion; and (3) competition policy has succeeded in deterring cartel formation – at least among U.S. companies. Copyright: FT While the available data is too limited to reach a definite conclusion, it seems to support the third hypothesis: since 2008, investigations have focused predominantly on foreign companies, while both the number and share of investigated U.S. companies have decreased. This is consistent with the hypothesis that U.S. competition policy has been effective in deterring anti-competitive conduct by US companies. Section II describes the recent downward trend in cartel prosecutions. The number of criminal cases filed annually by the DoJ decreased from 90 in 2011 to 18 in…

Vivek Ghosal and Daniel Sokol on ‘The Rise and (Potential) Fall of U.S. Cartel Enforcement’

This working paper, which is available here,  is still rough around the edges, but it contains a number of interesting insights, which I thought might be of interest. This essay traces how the institutional setting of U.S. cartel enforcement evolved over the years, and assesses these developments from an optimal deterrence framework. In doing so, the authors also review the outcomes of the various US policy regimes in terms of number of cartels prosecuted, the level of financial penalties imposed per individual and firm, and of jail time for cartel crimes. The authors also offer an analysis of how cartel enforcement has varied with recent US Presidential administrations. Section 3 describes how cartel enforcement has evolved in the US since 1890. Cartel enforcement in US began with the passage of the Sherman Act, which imposed a maximum fine for collusion of USD 5,000, raised to USD 50,000 in 1955. Jail time was not actively pursued until the late 1950s, when…

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…

Stigler Center (University of Chicago) Report on Digital Platforms

This Report, which can be found here, was written by a working group who came together to address specific problems arising from the digital platforms’ reach, scale, scope, and use of data. They examined concerns stemming from the market structure contemporary platforms have created, and to investigate their competitive behaviour, including the consequences of network effects that can create barriers to entry for new innovators and entrench incumbents. The theme that runs throughout the report is the difficulty of entry into digital platform businesses once an incumbent is established. Whether the entrant is vertical or horizontal, has succeeded to some degree, is nascent, is a potential entrant, or is a large platform in an adjacent space, market entry improves consumer welfare by either providing more choice, different features, and a chance of higher quality, or creating a threat that spurs the incumbent to provide lower prices, higher quality and innovation, and to do so more quickly. The Report is structured…

Daniel Sokol ‘Reinvigorating Criminal Antitrust?’ (2019) William & Mary Law Review 60 1545

A number of non-cartel antitrust infringements remain crimes under US law, even if they are not prosecuted in practice. This article, available here, deals with the implications of recent claims for increased antitrust enforcement for the application of such provisions.  A natural extension of enforcement would be to advocate the use of criminal sanctions for various antitrust violations outside of collusion which are “on the books” but have not been used in over a generation. The article argues that a return to the criminalisation of non-collusion related antitrust abuses is problematic not only as a matter of optimal deterrence, but also unconstitutional as a matter of law. Section one describes how antitrust criminalisation is a form of achieving deterrence. Antitrust enforcement builds on models of optimal deterrence. Under an optimal deterrence antitrust framework, a firm or individual will be deterred where the expected costs of illegal activity, taking into account the probability of detection and magnitude of the penalties, exceed…

Andreas Stephan ‘An empirical evaluation of the normative justifications for cartel criminalisation’ (2017) Legal Studies 37(4) 621

A growing number of jurisdictions treat ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct as crime, in the belief that the threat of incarceration is necessary for deterrence. For many years, the US was the only active criminal cartel enforcement regime in the world. Cartels were first prohibited under the US Sherman Act 1890 as misdemeanours, and became a felony in 1974. The US Department of Justice regularly secures convictions of firms and individuals – many of whom agree to serve custodial sentences under negotiated plea agreements – from around the world. In the past 20 years, there has been an international movement towards the US model. Around 25 jurisdictions have criminalised ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct, including the UK, France, Ireland and Australia – with many more having adopted criminal offences that relate only to bid-rigging in public procurement. Most of these jurisdictions have chosen to retain their civil enforcement powers in parallel, so as to use criminal enforcement selectively. However, there is still disagreement over…

Konstantinos Stylianou ‘What can the first blockchain antitrust case teach us about the crypto-economy?’

This note, available here, describes the first ever blockchain antitrust case. In December 2018, UnitedCorp, a diversified technology company, sued Bitmain, the largest Bitcoin mining pool, in the first blockchain dispute with a focus on antitrust (United American Corp. v. Bitmain, Inc. Complaint). The case, pending before the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is at its core a familiar collusion claim. The facts and allegations are as follows. UnitedCorp offers a number of blockchain solutions. These include BlockNum, which allows the execution of blockchain transactions using regular phone numbers; and BlockchainDome, a cryptocurrency mining system that uses the heat generated from the mining process to heat greenhouses for agricultural purposes. Both technologies rely on a cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash, one of the hundreds of publicly available (permissionless) cryptocurrencies. As with other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin Cash’s whitepaper and protocols set out its rules and governance. In November 2018, protocol developers disagreed on how to update Bitcoin Cash’s protocols. This resulted…

Cyril Ritter ‘Antitrust in two-sided markets: looking at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Amex case from an EU perspective’ Journal of European Competition Law & Practice (2019, forthcoming)

As reviewed in last week’s email/posts, the U.S. Supreme Court recently found that American Express’s ‘anti-steering’ rules did not violate U.S. antitrust law (in a decision reviewed here). In its judgment, the Supreme Court addressed a variety of topics essential to antitrust analysis – market definition, two-sided markets, harm through price effects and output effects, cross-market efficiencies and ancillary restraints – in ways which are at odds with the European approach. This paper, available here, seeks to compare the EU and US approaches in this respect.   It is structured as follows: Section three contains a comparison of the AmEx majority and dissenting opinions. In the interest of clarity, I will review it here, instead of following the paper’s structure. In Ohio v American Express, the majority held that only one market should be defined in two-sided transaction markets. Because there is a single relevant market, cognisable harm must refer to net harm across merchants and cardholders. Even demonstrating that the benefits…

Dennis Carlton ‘The Anticompetitive Effects of Vertical Most-Favored-Nation Restraints and the Error of Amex’ (2019) Columbia Business Law Review 88

Ohio v American Express involved the use of what are called “no steering” restraints, in which a retailer is not allowed to use a variety of tactics to steer a consumer away from using an American Express (“Amex”) card and towards using another payment mechanism, such as money or competing payment cards. The reason why a merchant might want to do this is because the cost that the merchant incurs when a customer uses an Amex card can be higher than when the customer uses another credit card, debit card or cash. Although not challenged in the case, the Amex contractual rules also prevent a retailer from imposing a surcharge on customers who use an Amex card to reflect the higher merchant cost. The contractual clause at stake in this case was a type of vertical most-favoured-nation (‘MFN’) restraint, i.e. a restraint in which one supplier tells a retailer that the retailer cannot set the retail price of its product…