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Monopoly Claims Can Survive Summary Judgment: Medtronic Must Defend Conduct in “Bone Mill” Market

One firm’s ability to break into the market for “bone mills” used in spinal-fusion surgery did not foreclose the possibility that medical device company Medtronic monopolized or attempted to monopolize the bone mill market, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver ruled last week. Bone mill manufacturer Lenox MacLaren Surgical Corporation raised sufficient fact questions, including questions regarding barriers to entry, to defeat summary judgment on its monopolization and attempted monopolization claims. The August 5, 2014, decision is Lenox MacLaren Surgical Corp. v. Medtronic, Inc., No. 13-1307.

The suit follows a falling out between Lenox and Medtronic. Lenox had sold some of its bone mi [...]

Can Bundled Discounts Be Illegal If Offered by a Firm Without Market Power?

Bundled discounts are common marketing schemes that normally benefit consumers and competition; however, courts and commentators have found certain circumstances when they might be illegal monopolization.  The line between hard competition and exclusionary conduct has confounded antitrust counselors and their pricing clients for years, but, it seemed like only companies with monopoly power need be concerned.  Now, a Pennsylvania district court in Schuylkill Health Systems v. Cardinal Health, Inc., et al., has further muddied the waters by allowing a bundling claim to proceed under Sherman Act Section 1, even after dismissing other claims for lack of market or monopoly power.

A bundled disc [...]

Making the Sentencing Guidelines Message Complete

As the U.S. Sentencing Commission considers reforms of the guidelines for antitrust crimes, it should take action to affirm the importance of antitrust compliance programs as an essential tool in the fight against cartels, and to provide a balance against the Antitrust Division’s past approach of refusing to consider compliance programs in any case for any purpose. The Division has been an outlier in the Department of Justice in rejecting the Sentencing Commission’s premise that companies may have violations even when they have good programs. The Division’s “one-size-fits-all” policy of never giving any type of benefit or credit for diligent compliance efforts, no matter what the f [...]

Substantial Reform of EU Merger Control on the Cards

On 9 July 2014, the European Commission published a White Paper setting out proposals to amend the EU merger control system. The proposed reform of the system is the most significant in the last 10 years and could have an impact on many corporate transactions.

The proposals

The proposals deal with the following:

  • the expansion of the Commission’s powers to review the acquisition of non-controlling minority shareholdings;
  • the streamlining of the case referral system between the Commission and the EU Member States; and
  • measures aimed at simplifying merger procedures, including amending the EU Merger Regulation so that extra-EEA joint ventures do not require notification, and the introduction [...]
Convictions, $500 Million Fine Upheld in Price Fixing Case Against AU Optronics; Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act No Bar

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco last week upheld the price fixing convictions of Taiwanese electronics manufacturer AU Optronics (AUO), its U.S. subsidiary, and two company executives. The appellate court also affirmed a $500 million fine against AUO, the only defendant to challenge the sentence. The case is U.S. v. Hsiung, No. 12-10492.

In March 2012, following an eight-week trial, a jury found AUO, AU Optronics Corporation America (AUOA), and AUO’s former president and former executive vice president guilty of conspiring to fix prices of thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels.  The display panels are used in flat panel computer monitors, notebook comput [...]

FTC/DOJ Workshop on Conditional Pricing Practices – Good as Far as It Goes

On June 23, 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice Antitrust Division held a workshop on “conditional pricing practices”—loyalty discounts, bundled discounts and similar pricing techniques.  Many economists, academic experts and practitioners, some of them even hailing from outside the Beltway, opined on the rationale for and against antitrust legality of such common marketing practices.  The agencies are to be congratulated for leading this discussion and advancing the thinking on this important topic; still, real-world businesses continue to look for clearer guidance than what has been provided by the agencies and courts to date, but the conference promis [...]

Second Circuit Clarifies Application of Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City on June 4 ruled that the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (FTAIA) barred the antitrust claims of a Taiwanese electronics manufacturing company with facilities in China against a group of foreign competitors. In its decision, the court followed the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Minn‐Chem, Inc. v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845, 2012-1 Trade Cases ¶77,943.

The judgment of the district court dismissing Lotes Co., Ltd.’s claims was affirmed, but on alternative grounds. Even if Lotes had alleged the statutorily required “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on U.S. domestic or import commerce, any such effect did not [...]

Combination of Idaho’s Largest Health System and Largest Physician Practice Must Be Unwound

Within the span of about two weeks, each of the federal antitrust agencies has been handed a major win in their merger enforcement efforts.

Last Friday, it was the Federal Trade Commission’s turn. The U.S. district court in Boise ordered St. Luke’s Health System, Ltd.—the largest health care system in Idaho—to divest Saltzer Medical Group—the state’s largest independent, multi-specialty physician practice—after concluding that St. Luke’s 2012 acquisition of Saltzer violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act and the Idaho Competition Act. In that matter, the FTC and the State of Idaho joined a challenge initiated by private plaintiffs.

On January 8, the federal district court in San Fr [...]

The FCC’s Incentive Auction: Getting Spectrum Policy Right

The authors are David Balto, an antitrust attorney in Washington, D.C., who was formerly a policy director of the Federal Trade Commission, attorney-adviser to Chairman Robert Pitofsky, and trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, and Hal J. Singer, Ph.D., who is a Managing Director at Navigant Economics and a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers how to allocate the broadcasters’ spectrum in the upcoming “incentive auction,” it should be guided by economic principles designed to maximize social benefits. To date, the spectrum policy debate largely has been driven by considerations of the private benefits of [...]

Can the FTC Be a Fair Umpire?

Nearly 100 year ago, Congress established the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers against unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive practices.  Part of the reason for its creation was to create an independent, fair and expert body to resolve complex antitrust claims, because the federal courts seemed incapable of enforcing the antitrust laws.  So Congress enabled the FTC to adjudicate its own cases in an administrative process.

Over the century, the Commission had many successes, but its power to adjudicate cases has always been controversial.  The FTC issues complaints which are adjudicated before an FTC Administrative Law Judge and that decision can be appealed to the Commission. [...]

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