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”.

Continue reading “Restriction of competition by object after Cartes Bancaires: further developments”

On sausages and Facebook/WhatsApp – Germany reforms its antitrust act (part 2 of 2)

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Guest post by Rupprecht Podszun, professor of Civil Law, German and European Competition Law at the University of Düsseldorf *

The German legislator currently amends the competition code so as to update it for the digital economy. This is a pioneering step. After having examined part of the proposed amendments yesterday (see here), this post will describe the new rules for the digital economy.

New rules for the digital economy

The implementation of the directive and the closing of the sausage gap coincided with a heated debate in German media on the power of internet companies, these Voldemorts from the Silicon Valley. Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and the head of the influential German media house Axel Springer, Mathias Döpfner, led the campaign against Google & Co. And so, Gabriel’s ministry came up with new rules for the digital economy. Continue reading “On sausages and Facebook/WhatsApp – Germany reforms its antitrust act (part 2 of 2)”

On sausages and Facebook/WhatsApp – Germany reforms its antitrust act (part 1 of 2)

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©Bundeskartellamt


Guest post by Rupprecht Podszun, 
professor of Civil Law, German and European Competition Law at the University of Düsseldorf *

The German legislator currently amends the antitrust act so as to update it for the digital economy. This is a pioneering step. This post will deal with some of the proposed amendments, while the next post (see here) will describe the new rules for the digital economy.

All EU Member States are working on a change of their competition law statutes, and actually should have completed that work by December 27, 2016. They need to implement the EU directive on antitrust damages claims (2014/104/EU) which aims at facilitating damage claims for victims of cartels and other anti-competitive practices that violate Art. 101 and 102 TFEU. At present, a mere handful of Member States has communicated success in amending their laws (see here). Continue reading “On sausages and Facebook/WhatsApp – Germany reforms its antitrust act (part 1 of 2)”

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?”

Into the void – The lack of interaction of IP and competition law internationally

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Competition law is well recognized and enforced either regionally or nationally in a large part of the modern world. However, quite surprisingly, there is no comprehensive international agreement, which would regulate competition law in any great substantive detail. An international agreement has certainly been discussed, but even today there is no global agreement, which could be compared e.g. to the Paris or Berne Conventions or TRIPS. The role of competition law has also been discussed within the framework of the WTO dispute resolution mechanism, but it has not won any significant ground within the system. Continue reading “Into the void – The lack of interaction of IP and competition law internationally”

The difficult marriage of IP & competition law

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The relationship between IP and competition law has certainly not been a bed of roses. Initially, the two regimes were regarded as separate (inherency theory). One could argue that the primary goal of IP is to promote innovation, while the primary goal of competition law is to promote competition. This is of course a somewhat simplified picture of the two regimes, since also other important objectives could be stressed, but this simplification helps to underscore that a certain tension between the regimes could be observed. Given the potential of conflict between objectives, it was argued that competition law only should play a role in situations where the IP holder goes beyond the exclusive right. Continue reading “The difficult marriage of IP & competition law”