BREAKING: the CJEU sets new criteria to assess excessive pricing under competition law

Yesterday the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on one of the hottest antitrust issues of 2017: excessive pricing.

It was Commissioner Vestager in late 2016 who set the antitrust radar of the European Commission on these conducts, which were considered a bit like unicorns until last year: traces of them were visible only on old handbooks. Following the Commissioner’s speech, the European Commission launched an investigation against Aspen Pharma for alleged excessive pricing in May 2017 (everywhere but in Italy, where Aspen had already been fined by the Italian Competition Authority, see here).

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“Annual Competition Act” with lowered merger notification thresholds and other pro-competitive measures approved in Italy

On 2 August 2017, the Italian Parliament enacted the so called “Annual Competition Act”, an Act which is supposed to be approved every year by the Legislator in order to adopt measures that should boost competition on the market. Why is that? Under the Italian Competition Act, the Italian Competition Authority submits an yearly official report to the Presidency of the Council to identify all the pre-existing or emergent legislative measures that create restrictions on competition and to suggest possible solutions. After examining the report, the Government delivers a draft law to the Parliament which will discuss, amend and approve it.

The new law significantly lowers the existing merger notification turnover thresholds. As a consequence, the new thresholds which trigger a mandatory filing to the Italian Competition Authority are:

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Recent developments on vexatious litigation and misuse of regulatory procedures under EU competition law

There are some forms of abuse of dominant position which raise significant issues in terms of compliance with the principle of legal certainty. Among such behaviours we can surely include conducts like “vexatious litigation” and “misuse of regulatory procedures” , categories developed by courts and not explicitly found in statutes. When competition authorities launch an investigation based on these conducts, companies have good reasons to get worried.

A new investigation in Italy – ICA v. Telecom Italia

Over the past years, the number of cases based on the “abuse of law” concept have risen, and last week the Italian Competition Authority (ICA) opened a new investigation based on this concept. According to the ICA, Telecom Italia would have abused its dominant position under article 102 TFEU by means of vexatious litigation, misuse of regulatory procedures, margin squeeze and lock-in strategies on the national wholesale market for the access to the ultra-broadband network and on the retail market for the supply of ultra-broadband telecommunication services. The ICA considered Telecom Italia dominant both at wholesale (it owns around 95% of the facilities) and retail level (with a market share of 45,9%).

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High Court rules in favour of the SEP holder and narrows the scope of competition law defence in Unwired Planet vs. Huawei

On 5 April 2017 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales (Hon. Justice Birss) issued its long awaited judgment in the patent dispute between Unwired Planet and Huawei. The ruling is of high relevance, as it is the first decision adopted by a judge in the UK after the CJEU’s judgment in Huawei.

The facts

The trial began in March 2014 when Unwired Planet sued Google, Huawei and Samsung for infringement of five SEPs (and one non-essential patent). Later, Unwired Planet settled with Google and Samsung. Continue reading “High Court rules in favour of the SEP holder and narrows the scope of competition law defence in Unwired Planet vs. Huawei”

Pills of competition law: Aspen, Uber and e-commerce

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These are busy days for EU competition law.

Today, the European Commission has come back to the old good pharmaceutical market and opened an investigation against Aspen for having charged excessive prices on its “off-patent” drugs (the same case has already been decided in Italy by the Italian Competition Authority in 2016, see here). This may be seen as a follow up to Margrethe Vestager’s recent speeches against excessive prices (here and here). However, even more recently, Advocate General Wahl delivered an opinion where he stated that excessive pricing may occur only in regulated markets with high barriers to entry, since in a free and competitive market high prices would attract new entrants and would not give rise to competitive issues (§ 48, see here for further remarks). Therefore, a question arises: where are the barriers to entry in the Aspen case, insofar as Aspen does not own any patent (already expired for years) and third parties are free to access the market? Continue reading “Pills of competition law: Aspen, Uber and e-commerce”

AG Wahl provides guidance to define “excessive prices” under EU competition law

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Some months ago, in a public speech, the EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager set the antitrust radar against exploitative conducts and, particularly, against “excessive pricing” in the pharmaceutical, energy and hi-tech markets. Her words had a lot of echo in the antitrust community, since the Commission is traditionally reluctant to step against high prices, for many different reasons (essentially, it lacks of resources and expertise to define “fair” prices, if this concept really exists).

In the past days, Advocate General Wahl came back to that topic and, in response to a request for a preliminary ruling, delivered to the CJEU an opinion on the issue of “excessive pricing”. AG Wahl’s reasoning mainly relates to the market concerned by the request for a preliminary ruling, namely the licensing business of collecting societies. However, it shreds some light on one of the most economic issues of competition law, and, if the opinion is confirmed by the Court, it will provide guidance for future investigations. Continue reading “AG Wahl provides guidance to define “excessive prices” under EU competition law”

IP issues in the telecom industry – An interview with Matteo Sabattini

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The telecommunication industry has experienced a rapid and constant growth over the years. Now the 5G technology and the “Internet of Things” are behind the corner, but a number of legal and regulatory issues are being discussed.  We talk about this and much more with Matteo Sabattini, expert in IP-related matters (for his complete bio, scroll down).

Good morning Dr. Sabattini. What’s the weather like today in Washington DC?

Earlier today, it was snowing. Light flurries. Quite unexpected considering that yesterday we had temperatures close to 20 degrees Celsius and spring weather conditions!

Today you are a patent and technology policy expert. What led you into this field? As a student, did you expect to work in this field?

In college, I was passionate about technology and engineering. I had initially envisioned myself as a researcher, an academic or an R&D engineer. And, in fact, that is what I did after I graduated and what pushed me to get a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. I got into IP with an internship at a consulting firm in Boston. While I was growing frustrated with the pace and the often-challenging industrial applicability of academic research, I enjoyed the diversity that working on patents gave me. I was learning quickly and eagerly about a new field, where I could still use my technical skills in a much more applied fashion. Through the years, as I was learning more about IP, I gradually moved from pure technical support to business and commercial aspects of the business. Continue reading “IP issues in the telecom industry – An interview with Matteo Sabattini”

Restriction of competition by object after Cartes Bancaires: further developments

How to assess whether an agreement between competitors has an anticompetitive object? In general, an agreement is known to be anticompetitive by object (or “per se”) when competitors agree on prices and quantities. However, when an agreement contains pro and anti-competitive features, a balance should be struck and the analysis is more complicated.

This assessment has an enormous impact on the burden of proof lying on competition authorities in antitrust investigations. Indeed, when competition authorities conclude that an agreement is restrictive by object, they do not have to prove the existence of an anticompetitive effect.

For decades, the antitrust community tried to  to make a clear distinction between those agreements, which are restrictive by object and the ones whose effects have to be analysed in more depth. Finally, in the last years courts around Europe have handed down a number of judgments on this issue, trying to limit the frequent recourse by competition authorities to the “object shortcut”.

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Does IEEE’s IP policy comply with competition law?

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There is a large body of legal and economic literature on standard-essential patents (SEPs) and competition law that focuses on the availability of injunctive relief and strategic behaviour of SEPs’ holders. There is much less literature on the role of standard-setting organisations (SSOs) and their IP policies (I dealt with this topic here).

The IP policies of SSOs became a hot topic in 2015, when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (“IEEE”), one of the most relevant SSOs active in the information and communication technology (“ICT”) sector, modified its IP policy with an effort to better clarify the “reasonable and non-discriminatory” (“RAND”) commitments that SEPs’ owners are supposed to accept through the submission of a letter of assurance (“LOA”). Continue reading “Does IEEE’s IP policy comply with competition law?”

When Supermodels Meet Competition Law

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Who said competition law is always about the same old markets?

Last November the Italian Competition Authority dealt with something other than pharmaceutical or telecommunication, as it found that 8 major model agencies set up a price-cartel. The investigation had been opened upon submission of a leniency application by the renowned agency IMG and led to a cumulative fine of 4.5 million euro. The other agencies found liable were Brave, D’management, Elite Model, Management, Enjoy, Major Model Management, Next Italy, Why Not and Women Models. Continue reading “When Supermodels Meet Competition Law”