February 11, 2014

Google Agrees To Search Engine Makeover To Settle European Antitrust Case

A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

By Michael Petrides

The announcement by the European Commission on February 5, 2014, that it has received a set of “improved commitments” from Google in their stand-off over the Internet giant’s search engine practices signals not only the beginning of the end of a four-year antitrust battle, but also a new chapter in online search and search advertising.

Under the settlement, which is awaiting final approval by the European Commission, Google would give its rivals more prominence in specialized search results, including those for shopping, travel and local business reviews.  The settlement would result in Google’s search engine in Europe looking substantially different look from the way it appears in the United States.  

The European Commission’s case against Google dates back to November 2010, when the Commission launched an investigation after having received a total of 18 formal complaints against Google.  The probe focused on whether a series of Google business practices in online searches effectively amounted to an abuse of the company’s dominant position in the markets for web search, online search advertising and online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA) – in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. click here for more »

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Categories: Antitrust Litigation, International Competition Issues

    February 10, 2014

    Umbrella Liability For Price Fixing: Does The Forecast Call For More Damages In The EU And U.S.?

    A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

    By Irene Fraile and Ankur Kapoor

    The European Union may be on the verge of embracing “umbrella liability”—a theory of liability that would significantly increase the exposure of members of anticompetitive cartels.

    The European Court of Justice is being urged by one of its advocates general to hold that, under EU law, victims of cartels can seek damages from cartel members for higher prices paid to non-cartel members that were able to raise their prices under the pricing “umbrella” created by the cartel. If the Court of Justice endorses such umbrella liability, antitrust liability in the EU could diverge from the approach evolving in U.S. courts which have been reluctant to embrace umbrella liability. click here for more »

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    Categories: Antitrust Enforcement, Antitrust Law and Monopolies, Antitrust Legislation, Antitrust Litigation, Antitrust Policy, International Competition Issues

      December 11, 2013

      Rough Regulatory Waters May Rock Massive Shipping Alliance

      By Jeffrey I. Shinder

      The proposed P3 shipping alliance among the world’s three biggest container shipping companies encountered more rough seas this past week.

      The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (“FMC”) has requested additional information from the parties.  This request will delay the implementation of the proposed alliance because, after the parties comply with the request, a new 45-day regulatory review period will begin.  While this request should not be interpreted as indicating that the alliance will not be approved by regulators, it almost certainly reflects the significant issues that the proposed deal raises for competition.

      The proposed P3 vessel-sharing alliance among Maersk, MSC and France’s CMA CGM S.A has the expressed goal of dealing with overcapacity and declining freight rates through an agreement to share ships and engage in related cooperative operating activities, under a common management, while retaining individual commercial status and control of consignments.

      The issues that are raised by this plan to create the world’s largest shipping alliance came into sharp focus last week when reports surfaced that the FMC is apparently questioning “operational contradictions” and “gaps” in the duties of the liners.  See Lewis Crofts,  “P3 shipping lines face questions over alliance’s scope ahead of US, EU, China meeting,” http://www.mlex.com/US/Content.aspx?ID=479918 (MLex, Dec. 6, 2013) (subscription required).  click here for more »

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      Categories: Antitrust and Price Fixing, Antitrust Enforcement, International Competition Issues

        December 6, 2013

        Microsoft No Longer Has An X On The Back Of Its Box For Antitrust Enforcers

        By Jean Kim

        The European Commission (the “EC”), as expected, has approved Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Nokia’s handset devices business, demonstrating that antitrust enforcers no longer view the operating system Goliath of the 1990s as a tempting target.

        The European approval was the last remaining regulatory hurdle for the parties to go forward with the $7.2 billion acquisition.  The FTC granted “early termination” approval last week, which means that it will take no action to block the merger.

        These relatively easy approvals by U.S. and European regulators are consistent with the similar ease with which Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype (worth $8.5 billion) sailed through U.S. and EC merger review in 2011.  Antitrust enforcers apparently are not concerned with Nokia’s 3% share of the smartphone market going to Microsoft, particularly when Apple and Samsung together account for almost 50% of worldwide smartphone sales in 2013.

        Microsoft, after emerging in 2011 from a decade of oversight by the U. S. Department of Justice following the settlement of the DOJ’s 1998 antitrust suit, has truly entered a new era.  Antitrust enforcers have turned their gaze to bigger fish like Google and Apple, and no longer have a knee-jerk reaction to Microsoft’s every move in tech markets.

        The EC has not completely withdrawn its scrutiny of Microsoft, however.  As late as March of this year, the EC fined Microsoft $730 million for breaching its five-year commitment to give customers a choice of browser in connection with the upgrade of its Windows 7 operating system.  This penalty was in addition to the more than 1.6 billion euros in fines that the EC had already levied on Microsoft over the last decade.

        But Microsoft’s commitment with the EC expires in 2014 (unless extended), and Microsoft may well be left unfettered to pursue an acquisition strategy aimed at making it more competitive in a technological world that is no longer dominated by the personal computer.  Microsoft certainly has the funds for a shopping spree with its $77 billion war chest.

        With the rollout of Surface tablets, and Xbox’s healthy 30% plus share of the console market, the Nokia acquisition will round out Microsoft’s portfolio and give it a foothold in three device markets where it can deploy and unify its Windows platform.

        – Edited by Gary J. Malone

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        Categories: Antitrust Enforcement, International Competition Issues

          December 5, 2013

          Europeans Evolving Toward More Plaintiff-Friendly Private Damages Action Rules

           A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

          By James Ashe-Taylor and Julia Schaefer

          The governing institutions of the European Union are moving ahead with proposals that could enable consumers and businesses victimized by antitrust violations to have a better chance at recovering damages from cartel members.

          Earlier this week, ministers from all 28 member states of the EU agreed at a meeting of the Council of the European Union to push ahead with a legislative proposal which seeks to facilitate damages claims by victims of antitrust violations and to allow them to receive full compensation.  Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia has called this effort a “milestone in the evolution of competition law enforcement in the EU.”

          The European Commission (the EU’s executive arm) published the legislative proposal to revise rules governing antitrust damages actions under member states’ national law on June 11, 2013.  The Council (one of the EU’s two legislative bodies) has now authorized its Presidency to start negotiations with the European Parliament (the other legislative body) to agree to revisions in the legislative proposal.

          The legislative proposals are designed to remedy defects in private enforcement, an area which Mr. Almunia described as “ineffective” and “uneven.”  Currently, victims of antitrust violations face high procedural hurdles in seeking relief, particularly under national discovery rules.  These often require a detailed description of specific relevant documents before discovery is permitted, an evidentiary obstacle few victims are able to overcome.

          Similarly, the discoverability of leniency documents is often uncertain and determined only on a case-by-case basis.  The EU proposals aim to clarify this area of law, in order to give greater protection and certainty to whistleblowers, while at the same time upholding victims’ ability to access all relevant information.

          The divergent rules and procedures across the EU member states have encouraged forum shopping for the courts with the most plaintiff-friendly procedural rules.  This has meant that the vast majority of damages actions have been brought in the British, Dutch and German courts.  The Commission considers this to be contrary to the single market principle.  It has also pointed out that forum shopping is a luxury available only to large corporations.

          According to Mr. Almunia, the new proposals are about making recovery of compensation by ordinary European citizens and small businesses a reality.

          The proposals would also preserve the competition authorities’ power to punish and deter anticompetitive practices.

          The EU’s enforcement of its competition laws remains a priority.  As discussed on this blog yesterday, the EU has just imposed a new record level of fines against global banks in the Libor and Euribor benchmark manipulation investigations.

          While the legislative proposals would bring European private antitrust damages actions a few steps closer to the American model, they would not make the full leap.  Unlike in the U.S., where victims of antitrust violations are able to seek triple damages from cartelists as a deterrent, the EU’s proposals are aimed only at compensating for the harm suffered.  Punishment, according to the Commission, should remain the exclusive realm of the competition authorities.  Moreover, the EU currently does not have a class action regime, which would facilitate damages actions by consumers and small businesses.  But on June 11, 2013 the Commission adopted a set of common non-binding principles for collective redress mechanisms in member states, which recommend limited opt-in class action-style laws.

          The adoption of a “common approach” by the Council is a positive step toward finalizing the legislative proposal before May 2014, when new elections are held for the European Parliament.  Under the EU’s “ordinary legislative procedure,” the Council will have to reach agreement with the Parliament on the Commission’s proposed legislation.  However, disagreement remains on key aspects of the proposals, such as discovery rules and protection for whistleblowers.  In addition, political conflicts in the Parliament have led to a month-long postponement of the first reading of the proposal until January of next year.

          Despite these roadblocks, there is strong pressure within the Parliament and the Council to complete the legislative passage of this directive before April.  Once adopted, the member states would have two years in which to implement the directive into national law.

          Additional information about bringing private actions for antitrust damages in the EU can be obtained by contacting James Ashe-Taylor or Julia Schaefer in Constantine Cannon’s London office.  

          Edited by Gary J. Malone

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          Categories: Antitrust Legislation, International Competition Issues

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