Back in 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) had announced, in its annual priorities, its interest in the competition implications of the digital revolution in the financial sector, notably in the context of the growth of FinTech, the introduction of blockchain technology and the emergence of “digital giants” in payment services. Shortly after this announcement, on 13 January 2020, the FCA started an ex officio investigation to assess the competitive situation in the sector of new technologies applied to financial activities and, more specifically, to payment activities.

More than a year later, in a public opinion of over 120 pages, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) provides its initial conclusions (i) noting the emergence of new services, initiation channels and alternative payment methods, (ii) reporting on a new market dynamic with the arrival of new players and the impact on traditional banking groups and (iii) addressing some of the competition issues facing the sector.

Continue Reading The French Competition Authority gives its views on the competition issues arising from Fintech

On 6 May 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) published the findings of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations for Research & Development (“R&D BER”) and specialisation agreements (“Specialisation BER”, together “HBERs”), as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines (“Evaluation”).

The Commission launched the Evaluation in 2019 to assess the future relevance of the HBERs and the Horizontal Guidelines, since their adoption in 2011 and 2012.  It gathered a variety of evidence on the functioning of the HBERs, which included:

  • findings of an open public consultation running from November 2019 to February 2020;
  • responses to the call for contributions on Competition Policy and the Green Deal launched in 2020; and
  • an external evaluation support study, which cross checked the public consultation and the responses received with the Commission’s and national competition authorities’ own experiences.

According to the Commission, the results show that, while still relevant and useful to businesses, there is a need for the HBERs and Horizontal Guidelines to better reflect recent socio-economic developments like digitalisation and sustainability.  The Evaluation also identified that businesses perceive some rules as unnecessarily strict and unclear.

Continue Reading The European Commission publishes the results of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations and guidelines

On 18 March 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) largely dismissed the appeal by Pometon against the General Court’s (“GC”) judgment, which previously partially dismissed Pometon’s appeal against the European Commission (“Commission”) steel abrasives cartel decision.
Continue Reading The CJEU accepts the principle of staggered hybrid cartel settlements in Pometon

On 25 March 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) dismissed the appeals by Lundbeck, Merck KGaA (and Generics UK), Arrow, Alpharma (and Xellia) and Ranbaxy, against the General Court’s (“GC”) judgment upholding the European Commission’s (“Commission”) 2013 pay-for-delay infringement decision.

Background

The case concerns the antidepressant containing the active pharmaceutical ingredient (“API”) citalopram.  Lundbeck’s patents for the API and two processes to produce it were protected in a number of European countries until 2003 (“Lundbeck’s original patents”).  Over time, Lundbeck developed other processes for the production of citalopram, in respect of which it obtained various patents (“Lundbeck’s new process patents”).

In 2002, Lundbeck entered into settlement agreements concerning potential launches of generic versions of citalopram with Generics UK (at the time an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck KGaA), Alpharma, Arrow and Ranbaxy.  Under the agreements, Lundbeck made payments to these producers of generic citalopram (“Other Providers”) in various forms (e.g., direct payments, purchase of generic citalopram stock for destruction, and guaranteed profits in a distribution agreement).  In exchange, the Other Providers agreed to cease or refrain from selling generic citalopram in the EEA as a whole or in specific Member States.

In 2013, the Commission adopted an infringement Decision against Lundbeck and each of the Other Providers, concluding that the agreements were “by object” restrictions of competition.
Continue Reading The CJEU’s Lundbeck judgment

On 17 February 2021, the General Court of the European Union (“General Court”) in Cases T-259/20 and T-238/20 dismissed Ryanair’s challenges to pandemic aid packages introduced in France and Sweden in order to support the domestic airline sector. The judgments are the first ones where the General Court has decided on the legality of the State aid schemes adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Continue Reading EU General Court dismisses first two challenges to State aid awarded to national airlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

On 27 January 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) confirmed in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. v European Commission that financial investors can be liable where they hold 100% voting rights over an indirect entity that participated in a cartel, even though the investor does not own 100% of the share capital during the relevant infringement period. Crucially, the judgment highlights the importance of conducting careful due diligence and ensuring competition law compliance for all investors, including financial investors, during the acquisition process.
Continue Reading Goldman Sachs v Commission: The CJEU further expands the parental liability doctrine — private equity businesses and investors tread carefully

Competition law appears to be at an inflection point. Over the past year, authorities, policy makers, and commentators across the globe have debated whether current laws and enforcement approaches are appropriately calibrated or whether they should be changed, including to try to protect interests that go well beyond the consumer welfare standard that has been

Introduction

In its preliminary ruling of 14 January 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) clarified that the duration of an infringement in the case of bid rigging ends once the essential characteristics of the public tender are determined – which in practice likely means at the signing date of the contract between the winner of the bid (who participated in the bid rigging) and the contracting authority. As such, this decision sets clear time-limits to competition authorities’ enforcement powers when prosecuting bid-rigging cartels. The CJEU provided this guidance in response to a preliminary question from the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.
Continue Reading The CJEU provides guidance on the end date in case of a bid-rigging cartel

Just over a year after launching the Procurement Collusion Strike Force (“PCSF”), the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (“DOJ”) announced new measures to further its pursuit of antitrust and related crimes in government procurement, grant, and program funding.  These changes expand the PCSF’s enforcement capacity and signal DOJ’s enduring—and intensifying—commitment to the PCSF’s mission.

The PCSF has added 11 new national partners: the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and nine new U.S. Attorneys.  As a result, the growing PCSF coalition now includes 29 agencies and offices, including U.S. Attorneys in 22 federal judicial districts; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Offices of Inspectors General at six federal agencies.  The PCSF also named the Antitrust Division’s Daniel Glad as the Strike Force’s first permanent director, solidifying the PCSF’s institutional role at DOJ.  Glad previously served as an Assistant Chief at the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office.
Continue Reading Expansion of the Procurement Collusion Strike Force

On December 10th, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced its first criminal indictment targeting an alleged conspiracy to reduce employee wages. The DOJ charged the former owner of a therapist staffing company with conspiring to reduce pay rates for healthcare worker contractors, but did not charge the company itself. Specifically, the indictment alleges that, for a six-month period in 2017, the defendant and his co-conspirators exchanged non-public information on rates paid to healthcare workers; discussed and agreed to decrease rates paid to healthcare workers; implemented rate decreases in accordance with their agreement; and paid healthcare workers at collusive and noncompetitive rates. The indictment alleges that the defendant’s behavior constitutes a per se violation of the antitrust laws and seeks penalties including fines and potential imprisonment. The indictment also includes an obstruction of justice charge, stemming from allegedly false or misleading information the defendant provided the Federal Trade Commission during the agency’s investigation of the same subject matter.
Continue Reading Antitrust Division Brings First Criminal Wage-Fixing Charge