Competition

In line with its previous decision-making practice (see our previous sustainability blog posts here and here), on 8 May 2024, the German Federal Cartel Office (“FCO”) declared the implementation of a new European industry standard for reusable pot plant trays compatible with competition law.

Since 2021, companies and associations from the European Green Sector

The Northern District of Illinois recently denied certification to several proposed classes of purchasers of a seizure drug called Acthar in City of Rockford v. Mallinckrodt ARD, Inc., No. 3:17-cv-50107, 2024 WL 1363544 (Mar. 29, 2024).  Class plaintiffs had alleged that defendant Express Scripts, a drug distributor, conspired with Mallinckrodt, a drug manufacturer, to

Last summer, the antitrust agencies proposed sweeping changes to the Hart-Scott-Rodino (“HSR”) Act premerger notification form and associated rules. Covered in detail here, the proposed changes would significantly increase the time, burden, and costs on merging parties to prepare an HSR filing. The public comment period ended on September 27, 2023. Since then, the

On March 28, 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission jointly filed a Statement of Interest on behalf of the United States in the case of Cornish-Adebiyi v. Caesars Entertainment, 1:23-CV-02536 (D.N.J. Mar. 28, 2024). 

In the Statement, the agencies express their disagreement with two legal arguments asserted by the 

What do you need to know?

Following a call for information earlier this year, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now announced the changes it intends to make to its merger review process. The majority of the changes are to the Phase 2 process, which is only encountered in a minority of formal reviews, namely those where the CMA believes the merger could lead to a substantial lessening of competition – at the time of writing, of the 76 merger reviews opened by the CMA since 1 January 2022, only nine (12%) had been referred to Phase 2 (whereas around 10% of non-simplified merger review procedures lead to a Phase 2 review in the EU). These changes largely seek to make the Phase 2 process more interactive, with a view to arriving at acceptable remedies proposals sooner in the process. The proposed changes follow a period of criticism of the CMA’s approach to merger enforcement and reflect a desire to improve the effectiveness of the UK merger review process. The proposed changes are being consulted on until 8 January 2024. 

Why is the CMA revising its Phase 2 procedures?

The amendments are being introduced against the backdrop of the UK’s exit from the EU. Post-Brexit, global deals that could affect competition in the UK and would previously have been the reviewed by the European Commission under its “one-stop-shop” principle are now often reviewed by the CMA in parallel, giving rise to divergent outcomes on clearance or acceptable remedies with surprising frequency. As the CMA’s responsibility has increased, so too has the brightness of the spotlight on its approach to merger enforcement which has also exposed the fact that the EU and UK merger processes are often not in sync. As explained below, some of the CMA’s proposals bring the UK process closer to that of the European Commission, suggesting that limiting (procedural) divergence could be a key driver behind these changes.Continue Reading Towards a More Interactive Merger Review Process: UK CMA Proposes Amendments

On October 17, 2023, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) published a report on mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) in the defense industrial base. The report details the current M&A review process of the Department of Defense (“DOD”) and provides recommendations to proactively assess M&A competition risks.

Currently, DOD’s Industrial Base Policy (“IBP”) office, with input

On June 29, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) posted a blog to its website expressing concerns about the recent rise of generative artificial intelligence (“generative AI”). To get ahead of this rapidly developing technology, the FTC identified “the essential building blocks” of generative AI and highlighted some business practices the agency would consider “unfair methods of competition.” The FTC also underscored technological aspects unique to generative AI that could raise competition concerns.

What is Generative AI?

Traditional AI has existed in the marketplace for years and largely assisted users in analyzing or manipulating existing data.  Generative AI, on the other hand, represents a significant advance with its ability to generate entirely new text, images, audio, and video. The FTC notes that this content is frequently “indistinguishable from content crafted directly by humans.”

What are the “essential building blocks” of generative AI?

The FTC identified three “essential building blocks” that companies need to develop generative AI. Without fair access to the necessary inputs, the FTC warns that competition and the ability for new players to enter the market will suffer.

  • Data. Generative AI models require access to vast amounts of data, particularly in the early phases where models build up a robust competency in a specific domain (for example, text or images). Market incumbents may possess an inherent advantage because of access to data collected over many years. The FTC notes that while “simply having large amounts of data is not unlawful,” creating undue barriers to access that data may be considered unfair competition.

Continue Reading The Federal Trade Commission and Generative AI Competition Concerns

Various national competition authorities (“NCAs”) are continuing to consider sustainability arguments in competition cases. However, NCAs are increasingly diverging in their approach as to whether, and to what extent, they are willing to allow sustainability considerations in the competition law framework. This blogpost highlights a few recent developments in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Belgian approval of an initiative in the banana sector

On 30 March 2023, the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) approved a sustainability initiative concerning living wages in the banana industry. This marks the first initiative based on sustainability grounds  approved by the Belgian NCA.

The IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, a social enterprise working with various entities towards facilitating sustainable trade in global supply chains, and five Belgian supermarkets proposed a collaboration scheme aimed at closing the gap between actual wages and living wages in the banana sector. The collaboration will consist of meetings and discussions where the companies’ internal conduct will be assessed and further developed with the aim to better support living wages for workers in the participants’ banana supply chains.

The collaboration will involve the exchange of certain data and information which the BCA did not consider anticompetitive. The participants have committed to not set mandatory or recommended minimum prices and to not communicate any changes in costs relating to their supply chains. IDH will supervise the collaboration and any data shared will be verified by an independent third party.

Similar initiatives concerning the banana sector  have been proposed in Germanythe Netherlands and the UK. The German NCA has already approved the proposed initiative. Neither the Belgian nor the German NCA considered the initiatives in question to infringe competition law. There is, however, a fine line between such agreements falling in or outside the scope of competition law, and potentially amounting to an infringement. For example, clauses which lead to non-negligible price increases for end-consumers could raise questions and potentially be considered to have anticompetitive effect. It can therefore be expected that that NCAs will periodically monitor the implementation of such initiatives.Continue Reading Sustainability Agreements: Potential Divergence between Authorities

In recent years, there has been increasing antitrust scrutiny around the world of large technology companies. The increased attention on competition in the digital economy started outside of the United States. Since 2019, however, the U.S. antitrust enforcers—the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as numerous state attorneys general—have closely scrutinized and brought enforcement actions against some of the largest tech companies. This client alert provides an overview of the recent competition enforcement trends, specifically: (1) key topics at issue in many tech investigations; (2) the increased focus on competition in labor markets; and (3) the U.S. FTC’s new, expansive interpretation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. In view of this uncertain landscape, tech companies should stay on top of these enforcement trends and potential risks they face.

Key Topics at Issue in Investigations of Tech Companies

Investigations of technology companies follow similar principles to investigations in other industries, but there are some concepts that the antitrust authorities have been considering more closely in the context of the tech industry. First is the concept of “gatekeepers,” which the government agencies have used to describe any entity that sits between users and suppliers/merchants. The agencies have shown a particular interest in large intermediaries and have expressed concern that certain intermediaries may be able use their position to increase fees, obtain restrictive terms, and extend their position in the marketplace. At the same time, intermediaries in the tech industry have generated significant benefits, including by lowering transaction costs, helping sellers and customers to more easily find each other, and enabling new business models and innovations.

Another concept that sometimes arises in tech investigations related to intermediaries is “zero-price” products, where a company makes its products or services free to certain users and makes money either through different products, different consumers (like advertisers), or at a different point in time. The notion of “free” products is not unique to the tech industry. Ad-supported media – including radio, broadcast television, and newspapers – existed long before the rise of the digital economy. Nevertheless, the agencies are currently grappling with how to define relevant markets and measure competitive harm in the absence of price competition. For example, the traditional test applied by enforces to define relevant markets that looks at a small but significant and non-transitory increase in price (or “SSNIP”) does not directly translate to zero-priced goods. Similarly, alleged non-price harms to consumers are often harder to prove than an increase in price.Continue Reading Antitrust Enforcement Trends in the Digital Economy

On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued a groundbreaking proposed rule that would, if finalized:

  • prohibit most employers from entering into non-compete clauses with workers, including employees and individual independent contractors;
  • prohibit such employers from maintaining non-compete clauses with workers or representing to a worker that the worker is subject to a non-compete clause; and
  • require employers to rescind any existing non-compete clause with workers by the compliance date of the rule and notify the affected workers that their non-compete clause is no longer in effect.

The FTC’s notice of proposed rulemaking explains that the FTC considered possible limitations on the rule—such as excluding senior executives or highly paid employees from the ban—but it ultimately proposed a categorical ban on non-competes.  The only exception is for non-competes related to the sale of a business.  However, even this exception is unusually narrow: it would only apply to selling business owners who own at least 25% percent of the business being sold.  (The proposal also would not apply to most non-profits, certain financial institutions, common carriers, and others who are also outside the scope of FTC regulation.)

As discussed in Covington’s January 5 client alert, the FTC explained that it issued the proposed rule due to its belief that non-competes reduce wages, stifle innovation and business, and are exploitative and unnecessary. Continue Reading FTC Proposes Rule to Ban Most Non-Competes