For years, antitrust commentators have warned of threats to innovation and competition posed by “thickets” of patents—the “dense web[s] of overlapping intellectual property rights that a company must hack its way through in order to actually commercialize new technology.” See Carl Shapiro, “Navigating the Patent Thicket: Cross Licenses, Patent Pools, and Standard-Setting” (March 2001), available at https://www.nber.org/chapters/c10778.pdf. At least one judge on the Federal Circuit has also noted concern about this issue. E.g. Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Symantec Corp., 838 F.3d 1307, 1328-29 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (Mayer, J., concurring) (calling for elimination of “generically-implemented software patents” to “clear the patent thicket”).
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Antitrust Update Blog is a source of insights, information and analysis on criminal and civil antitrust and competition-related issues. Patterson Belknap’s antitrust lawyers represent clients in antitrust litigation and counseling matters, including those related to pricing, marketing, distribution, franchising, and joint ventures and other strategic alliances. We have significant experience with government civil and criminal/cartel investigations, providing the unique perspectives of former top U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division lawyers from both the civil and criminal sides.
With the Democratic primary process in full swing, we thought it fitting to take a look at where the candidates stand with respect to antitrust issues. As it turns out, this is a fairly active election cycle for antitrust, with most Democratic candidates invoking antitrust laws (and proposed laws) in connection with their visions for the future. The increased focus on antitrust has not been lost on other observers.
We wrote before about a decision by an Alabama federal district court to analyze claims in the Blue Cross Blue Shield multi-district litigation under a per se standard. The court found that a licensing rule allegedly requiring member plans to derive at least two-thirds of their revenue from Blue-branded plans was effectively an “output restriction” which, especially combined with the designation of exclusive service areas among the member plans, constituted a per se Sherman Act violation.
Alabama Federal Court Will Analyze Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Claims Under Per Se Standard; Defers Decision on “Single Entity” Defense
A court’s decision regarding the proper standard of review in a Sherman Act Section 1 case—whether to analyze the defendant’s conduct as a per se antitrust violation or under the “rule of reason”—is highly significant. The rule of reason requires a plaintiff to show that the anticompetitive effects of the conduct are not outweighed by its procompetitive benefits—often, a factually intensive analysis. But under the per se standard a plaintiff (and the court) may dispense with this balancing test; it is necessary only to prove that the conduct actually happened.
This blog has discussed some of the dynamics created by the Supreme Court’s Hanover Shoe and Illinois Brick decisions and state “repealer” laws that attempt to undo their effect. As it turns out, repealer states aren’t the only ones skeptical of these twin cases that in general prevent indirect purchasers from asserting antitrust damages claims and defendants from relying on a “pass-on” defense.
Senators and court complain of ‘anti-competitive’ transfer of patent rights to American Indian tribe
We have previously discussed antitrust implications of pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to maximize patent protection for their drugs. Consumers and generic drug makers, for instance, have alleged antitrust violations based on “product hopping” and “pay-for-delay” settlements. Recently, a patent owner’s creative technique to avoid possible invalidation of its patent by the Patent and Trademark Office has drawn sharp criticism from lawmakers and one district court.
As we noted last month, the FTC has recently been voicing concerns about potentially anticompetitive actions of state professional licensing boards. Our post also discussed the scope of such boards’ immunity from antitrust liability under the Supreme Court’s caselaw.
Last month, the FTC staff sent a letter warning North Carolina’s General Assembly that a pending bill regarding the state’s real estate appraisal board could run afoul of competitive principles. The staff notes that it is prepared to investigate and recommend challenges to potentially anticompetitive actions by state appraisal boards. However, in light of Supreme Court precedent on state sovereign immunity, it is not certain that the FTC could successfully challenge state board actions with which it disagrees.
The incentive is high to identify a Sherman Act violation in your competitor’s conduct—three times higher, to be precise, than to bring a claim for an ordinary business tort or even a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act. But as we noted in December, the Fifth Circuit recently refused to recognize a claim for attempted monopolization under Section 2 based on a defendant’s false advertising “absent a demonstration that [the] false advertisements had the potential to eliminate, or did in fact eliminate, competition.” The court relied on a prior decision in which it expressed “extreme reluctance to allow a treble damage verdict to rest upon business torts alone.” The case is Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Co.
A tale of two mergers: Following their losses in DOJ merger challenges, Anthem fights on and Aetna gives up
In the past month, the DOJ and several state governments scored two trial wins in their challenges to mergers among some of the country’s largest health insurers. First, Judge Bates of the District of Columbia blocked the combination of Aetna and Humana, finding that the “proffered efficiencies do not offset the anticompetitive effects of the merger.” Weeks later, Judge Jackson of the same district scuttled a deal between Anthem and Cigna, which she found “likely to lessen competition substantially” in the relevant market.
Federal District Court finds brand-name manufacturer’s alleged regulatory delay tactics a valid theory of attempted monopolization
In a recent decision denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss, Judge Mitchell Goldberg of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania allowed the manufacturer of a generic version of Suboxone to proceed upon an interesting theory of attempted monopolization by the brand-name manufacturer Indivior (formerly, Reckitt). Amneal, the generic manufacturer, alleges that Indivior purposefully delayed what was supposed to be a joint effort to develop a combined risk management strategy for all versions of Suboxone.
It has been over three years since the Supreme Court’s Actavis decision. Since then, numerous putative class actions alleging harm to competition as a result of “reverse-payment” settlements have flooded the courts. The complexity of these cases, along with the vague guidance provided by the Supreme Court, has given rise to intricate questions about how courts should apply Actavis and scrutinize settlements of Hatch-Waxman litigation.
It is not every day that antitrust plaintiff classes fail to win certification due to lack of numerosity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(1). Yet this week, absence of numerosity was the reason a Third Circuit panel reversed an order from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania certifying a class of 22 plaintiffs. The putative class included direct purchasers allegedly injured by reverse-payment agreements between Cephalon and four generic manufacturers of Cephalon’s narcolepsy drug Provigil.
The European Commission on Tuesday announced its decision finding truck makers MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco, and DAF liable for violating EU antitrust rules. The companies acknowledged that for 14 years they colluded in setting truck prices, settling the case for a record total of €2.93 billion. Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager reported that the five-company cartel “account[s] for around 9 out of every 10 medium and heavy trucks produced in Europe.” Vestager also said that the unprecedented fines send a “clear message to companies that cartels are not accepted.”
A recent complaint charges PepsiCo Inc. with several antitrust violations, including price fixing and predatory pricing in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, conspiracy and attempt to monopolize in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act, and price discrimination in violation of the Robinson-Patman Act.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is reportedly investigating the National Football League for antitrust violations in connection with its imposition of “price floors” on tickets for resale. In a 40-page report released last week, the NYAG’s office outlined numerous concerns about the market for event tickets. Among those concerns is the practice, by some NFL teams and the New York Yankees, of imposing minimum pricing requirements (typically prohibiting sale for less than face value) on their “official” online resale platforms. According to the NYAG, such “price floors” make it “easy for buyers to be fooled into believing what they are paying is the market price for a ticket, when in fact the buyer is paying a price artificially inflated by a price floor.”
Drug company Turing Pharmaceuticals made headlines recently when it reportedly raised the price of Daraprim, used commonly by AIDS patients to fight life-threatening infections, from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. Amidst vociferous protest, the company agreed to reduce the price. But the attention garnered by media reports has led to some allegations that Turing may have run afoul of antitrust laws through a less-publicized aspect of its marketing of Daraprim: the elimination of certain distribution channels, including wholesalers and retailers.
Portions of a reverse payment suit against Endo Pharmaceuticals and others were recently dismissed by Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California. The case was brought by plaintiffs who allege that a settlement agreement resolving a patent dispute over the drug Lidoderm illegally delayed the release of a generic version.
We previously noted that the UK’s new competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, has indicated that cartel enforcement will be one of its top priorities, hoping to “open as many new criminal cartel investigations as possible” in 2015-2016. However, the agency announced this week that its first trial in this area, concerning cartel conduct in the market for galvanized steel water storage tanks, has resulted in an acquittal.
As we previously reported, the FTC sought a preliminary injunction to block a merger between Sysco and U.S. Foods pending the outcome of its administrative trial challenging the deal. Yesterday, Judge Amit Mehta of the federal district court for the District of Columbia granted the agency’s request, finding that “there is a reasonable probability that the proposed merger will substantially impair competition in the national customer and local broadline markets and that the equities weigh in favor of injunctive relief.”
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently released its Annual Plan for 2015/2016. The Plan announces the CMA’s enforcement priorities for what will be the second year since the new organization assumed its role.
Following the S.D.N.Y.’s award to the New York State Attorney General of an injunction requiring Actavis to continue distributing the immediate-release tablet version of its dementia drug, Namenda, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Actavis’ request for a stay of the injunction pending appeal.
As reported previously, the first post-Actavis jury verdict in a “reverse payment” antitrust case handed a win to the defendants. Now, plaintiffs in In re: Nexium (Esomeprazole) Antitrust Litigation have moved for a new trial, arguing that the Massachusetts federal district court committed error in formulating the jury charge and in excluding some of plaintiffs’ evidence.
The intersection of IP and antitrust has always been fraught. The raison-d’être of the Sherman, Clayton, and FTC Acts is to bust trusts and promote competition. Meanwhile, intellectual property laws create lawful exclusionary rights.
This series will explore one particular point of tension: the battle over “reverse payment settlements” pursuant to which the plaintiff in a patent infringement action agrees to “pay” the alleged infringer to keep the infringer’s product off the market for a period of time. In these “pay-for-delay” arrangements, the province of the pharmaceuticals industry, the settling parties are a brand-name drug manufacturer and the maker of a generic equivalent.