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.
Public discourse about antitrust law has been expanded to include a wider range of ideas about the purpose of antitrust law. “New Brandeisians” believe that the consumer welfare standard, which prioritizes end-user prices over most other considerations, does not account for all the harms caused by a lack of competitive markets. They contend that this standard is particularly ill-suited for policing the large technology companies that dominate their markets. As previously discussed here and here and here, certain American regulators, legislators, and presidential candidates appear to be listening.
In Long-Awaited Opinion, Court Rules That Keurig Must Face Antitrust Suits by Competitors and Customers
In a recently unsealed opinion, U.S. District Judge Broderick (S.D.N.Y.) explained his reasoning for allowing a consolidated antitrust suit to proceed against Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. and its affiliates, the makers of single serve brewer machines and compatible single serve coffee packets, “K-Cups.” As discussed below, the case may influence future cases involving exclusive licensing agreements and allegedly false marketing tactics.
As we discussed in a previous post, a new school of thought about antitrust law (or, rather, a new application of old antitrust principles) has received increasing attention in recent months. The so-called “New Brandeis” approach seeks to shift the focus of antitrust law from consumer welfare alone to include the competitive structure of markets. Recent attention to these arguments is often traced to the publication of Lina Khan’s Yale Law Journal article "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox." (Khan, who previously served as an advisor to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, was just hired as counsel for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.) Indeed, as we discussed last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings focusing on potential changes to the consumer welfare standard currently used by federal courts in evaluating antitrust claims.
The purpose and goals of United States antitrust policy have not remained static over time. Since 1979, the Supreme Court has focused on a “consumer welfare” theory of antitrust law. See Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 343 (1979) (The floor debates “suggest that Congress designed the Sherman Act as a ‘consumer welfare prescription.’” (citation omitted)). Under the consumer welfare standard, an act is deemed anticompetitive “only when it harms both allocative efficiency and raises the prices of goods above competitive levels or diminishes their quality,” Rebel Oil Co. v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 51 F.3d 1421, 1433 (9th Cir. 1995); whether an action or policy is found to be anticompetitive depends ultimately on whether consumers pay higher prices. The consumer welfare theory has the advantage of focusing on the impact to consumers through the application of economic theory, but doesn’t always have much to say about firms that occupy a dominant position in an industry while continuing to provide services to consumers cheaply (or without any fee at all)—a hallmark of many modern tech companies.
For the past several decades, antitrust law has been focused primarily on consumer harm—a given policy is unlikely to be considered anticompetitive if it results in lower prices for consumers. A student note in a January 2017 edition of the Yale Law Journal titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” argues that this focus is too narrow, and that antitrust policy and regulators should be focused on broader measures of competition. Using Amazon as a case study, the author, Lina M. Khan, argues that Amazon should be subject to increasing antitrust scrutiny despite its substantial track record of providing low prices to consumers for a variety of products.
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.
On April 9, 2018, the producer of the Soul’d Out music festival in Portland, Oregon, sued the owners and producers of the Coachella music festival in California for what it alleges are anticompetitive contract terms that prevent performers from playing in its much smaller festival. As alleged in the compliant, to perform at the massive Coachella festival, performers must agree not to perform at any “Festival or Themed Event” in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington or Arizona between December 15, 2017 and May 7, 2018—a contract term that the complaint refers to as the “Radius Clause.” Coachella is scheduled to take place this year in April 2018, so the clause restricts performers for roughly four months before and one month after the festival.
Economists are endemic to antitrust litigation. Their expertise is often necessary to explain why the conduct or merger at issue will have no impact (or a huge impact!) on competition in a market. Typically the opinions of economists are presented through the expert witnesses each party calls. Sometimes, though, economists who are not officially retained to opine on the issues will weigh in through the filing of an amicus brief, and sometimes such briefs can have a demonstrable impact.
Third Circuit Says “Umbrella Damages” Bar Does Not Preclude Antitrust Standing Where Product Is Partly Comprised of Materials Not Subject to the Alleged Conspiracy
In a case of first impression, the Third Circuit recently held in In re Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation, No. 16-3795, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2698 (3d Cir. Jan. 22, 2018), that a direct purchaser of a product, comprised partly (but not all) of price-fixed materials, has antitrust standing to pursue a claim against the product’s seller where the seller is a participant in the alleged price-fixing conspiracy, even if the product also includes some material supplied by a third-party non-conspirator.
On January 10, 2018, in In re Lantus Direct Purchaser Antitrust Litig., the District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the antitrust case against Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC (“Sanofi”), the manufacturer of Lantus and Lantus SoloSTAR, which use the insulin product glargine to treat Type I and Type II diabetes. The plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation, a group of purchasers of the Lantus products, alleged that Sanofi unlawfully prolonged its monopoly for the glargine products after the expiration of the relevant patent in two ways. First, the plaintiffs alleged that Sanofi improperly listed six patents in the FDA’s Approved Drug Products with Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluations (the “Orange Book”). Second, the plaintiffs alleged that Sanofi pursued sham litigation against Eli Lilly in which Sanofi asserted claims of patent infringement without any reasonable basis. That litigation was settled by Sanofi and Lilly shortly before trial.
Senate Passes the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act, and Takes Another Shot at Increased Protections for Whistleblowers
On November 15, 2017, the United States Senate passed the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act of 2017 (“CAARA”). This Act would amend the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 (“ACPERA”), and would provide a civil remedy to persons fired or otherwise discriminated against for reporting potential criminal violations of the antitrust laws.
A federal judge in California has refused to allow indirect purchasers of semiconductor chips—i.e., cell phone consumers—to bring claims against Qualcomm under federal antitrust law.
The Third Circuit recently affirmed the grant of summary judgment to GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) in the nearly 10-year-old Wellbutrin XL Antitrust Litigation, which challenged the lawfulness of settlement agreements resolving patent disputes over Wellbutrin XL. In determining that GSK had not violated the Sherman Act, the court determined that GSK’s settlement of patent infringement lawsuits did not reflect that GSK had engaged in sham litigation, or that GSK made unlawful “reverse payments” to settle that litigation. To reach these conclusions, the court carefully picked apart years of evidence
Outlet malls are popular destinations for consumers seeking a bargain, even if not everyone agrees that the deals are as good as advertised. But although the prices may seem low, a common provision in lease agreements between the operators of outlet malls and retailers may have reduced competition and raised the prices consumers paid. This week, the operator of the most popular outlet mall in the New York City metropolitan area reached a settlement with the New York Attorney General that may lead to increased competition in the outlet mall space in New York and beyond.
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.
Last Monday, the court denied Qualcomm, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s suit against it for allegedly using anticompetitive tactics to maintain a monopoly in baseband modem chips for cell phones. The FTC contends that Qualcomm is using its standard-essential patents (SEPs) to extract monopoly prices from cell phone and other cellular device manufacturers in violation of its commitment to license its patents on a “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) basis.
On Monday, just a few days after the Justices of the Supreme Court conferred on the cert petition in the Vitamin C price fixing antitrust case, the Court asked the Acting Solicitor General to file a brief “expressing the views of the United States.” The cert petition comes after a Second Circuit decision reversing a $147 million jury award to vitamin C importers who successfully argued in the court below that two Chinese companies fixed the prices of vitamin C exported to the United States in violation of the Sherman Act.
A new book was recently released about the events surrounding the alleged LIBOR fixing conspiracy. Authored by Wall Street Journal reporter David Enrich, The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History tackles the issues from a unique perspective, focusing on one of the main bankers involved, Tom Hayes. Hayes, formerly a trader at UBS and Citigroup, was prosecuted by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office in 2015. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud for his role in fixing LIBOR and is serving an 11-year prison sentence.
Multi-Defendant Antitrust Litigation: Lessons Learned from In re: Automotive Parts Antitrust Litigation
Last Friday, in the latest development in the massive auto parts antitrust litigation, the State of California settled with Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd. and related companies regarding their sale of wire harness systems and heater control panels at allegedly supracompetitive prices. (For prior posts on this case, see here and here.) Sumitomo did not admit to any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay California over $800,000 and cooperate with California’s litigation efforts against the many other defendants in the case. Sumitomo and its related entities are the only auto parts defendants named in the State of California’s complaint.
This week, the Second Circuit affirmed the approval of a $50 million agreement settling price-fixing claims brought by a class of farmers against a dairy cooperative and a dairy marketing company. The settlement in Allen et al. v. Dairy Farmers of America et al. was notable for at least two reasons that were seemingly at odds: First, the unusually high number of claims filed; and second, the vociferous advocacy of two named plaintiffs who objected to the settlement. The objectors argued that class counsel colluded with defendants’ to reach a settlement agreement, and coerced class members to support the settlement.
Media outlets have reported that the U.S. Department of Justice raided the maritime industry’s “Box Club” meeting, which is more formally known as the meeting of the International Council of Containership Operators. Box Club meetings include the CEOs of all major container lines, and even though the meeting locations are not publicly disclosed, the DOJ managed to serve subpoenas in mid-March at the San Francisco meeting, including top executives at A.P. Moller-Maersk, Evergreen, the Orient Overseas Container Line, and Hapag Lloyd. Notably, the subpoena recipients are not U.S.-based companies—the DOJ may have used the Box Club meeting as an opportunity to exercise its subpoena power over foreign entities.
We have not previously reported on an antitrust litigation that is enveloping the mixed martial arts (“MMA”) world. Six current and former MMA fighters have filed a class action lawsuit against the company that owns the UFC, Zuffa, LLC, for violations of the Sherman Act. A review of the docket indicates that the UFC will have to go a few more rounds before it has another opportunity for a knockout.
Since we last reported on the state and federal government’s generic drug pricing investigations and litigations (click here to read more), the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has obtained its first guilty pleas. On January 9, 2017, Heritage Pharmaceutical Inc.’s former CEO and its former president (the defendants are brothers-in-law) pleaded guilty to manipulating the prices of and divvying up customers for an antibiotic, doxycycline hyclate, and a diabetes medicine, glyburide. The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2017, and they face up to ten years of imprisonment. The government’s filings in other lawsuits make clear that the defendants’ sentencing was delayed until the defendants complete their cooperation with the government.
What does to take to state a claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Act for refusal to deal? Last week’s decision in Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp. and Comcast Spotlight, LP, a case out of the Northern District of Illinois, highlights the difficulty of plausibly alleging a negative: that a defendant monopolist’s exclusionary conduct lacks any procompetitive purpose.
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.
President Donald Trump last week designated Maureen K. Ohlhausen as acting chair of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). Ohlhausen is a vocal critic of government involvement in the market, suggesting the FTC under her leadership will employ a lighter touch with regard to enforcement and regulatory actions.
Manufacturers of containerboard and corrugated products have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on a Circuit split concerning the impact of negotiated prices on class certification in antitrust cases brought under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Petitioners filed for a writ of certiorari on December 30, 2016, arguing that the Seventh Circuit in Kleen Products LLC, et al. v. International Paper Company, et al., Nos. 15-2385, 15-2386 (7th Cir. Aug. 4 2016), erred in two related ways, both of which flow from the fact that prices of the containerboard products at issue in the case tend to be individually negotiated.
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.
DOJ and State AG Investigations Into Generic Pricing Lead to Suits Against Manufacturers and Employees
As we have previously reported, (click, here, here, here, and here to read more), generic drug manufacturers have recently come under intense scrutiny from state and federal regulators for their price hikes. Last week, the Department of Justice and twenty state attorneys general instituted criminal and civil proceedings in connection with alleged generic drug price manipulation.
In a December 2, 2016 decision, Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Company, the Fifth Circuit opined on when false advertising can lead to liability under the Sherman Act. The Fifth Circuit’s answer: Very rarely.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week issued antitrust guidelines for human resources (HR) professionals. The guidelines highlight the most common antitrust violations, based on a review of cases in which federal antitrust agencies have taken enforcement actions against employers. There are three main takeaways from this guidance.
PinnacleHealth System and Penn State Hershey Medical Center have abandoned their merger plans following a Third Circuit defeat last month. The announcement underscores the uncertainty faced by hospitals considering consolidation as a way to keep costs down and promote a value-based system of payment.
How explicitly must a complaint sounding in antitrust allege causation? At oral argument last week, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit evaluated the sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ allegations that certain Takeda entities, in their representations to the FDA, falsely described patents for the antidiabetic drug ACTOS in order to delay the entry of generic competitors into the market—specifically, whether the plaintiffs had pleaded enough facts to show that these representations plausibly caused the delay.
Antitrust standing is one of the most beguiling concepts in antitrust law, but it is a hurdle that a plaintiff must negotiate if its claim can proceed. This week, the Second Circuit provided some clarity to the doctrine when it affirmed a district court decision dismissing the antitrust claims of end users of aluminum for lack of antitrust standing in In re Aluminum Warehousing Antitrust Litigation.
It is probably safe to say that most voters in the 2016 presidential election do not view antitrust policy as a key campaign issue. Accordingly, the candidates’ and their parties’ views on competition policy were scarcely, if at all, mentioned during the recent party conventions. However, the parties’ official platforms suggest how the candidates, once in office, would handle competition policy.
After Favorable LIBOR Ruling from the Second Circuit, Investors Now Allege Anticompetitive SIBOR Manipulation
On July 5, 2016, investors filed a federal class action [add link to pdf] in the Southern District of New York alleging defendant banks had manipulated the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (SIBOR) “and/or” Singapore Swap Offer Rate (SOR) market, forcing investors to pay artificial prices for financial derivative transactions based on these benchmarks. This lawsuit follows on the heels of the Second Circuit’s decision in In re: LIBOR-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation, which allowed the case to proceed.
As our loyal readers know, on May 23, 2016, the Second Circuit issued a decision in the In re: LIBOR-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation vacating the District Court’s prior decision dismissing one case in this consolidated action. Our analysis of that decision is available here. Notably, however, the Second Circuit declined to rule on whether the plaintiffs (the “Plaintiffs”) are “efficient enforcers” of the antitrust laws and remanded that question for the District Court’s consideration.
A recent decision of the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) regarding the sale of tobacco products highlights a long-standing tension between two sets of laws: antitrust/competition laws, which seek to keep products affordable and accessible to consumers, and consumer protection and public health laws, which can seek to steer consumers away from products that pose a risk to public health by making them less accessible.
The Department of Justice ("DOJ") announced this week that Hitachi Chemical Co. will plead guilty to a criminal charge for conspiring with competitors to fix the prices of electrolytic capacitors sold in the United States and elsewhere. The Tokyo-based company will pay an undisclosed fine and has agreed to cooperate with the DOJ's investigation.
Bad Basketball at High Prices? Timberwolves Season Ticket Holders Seek to Enjoin the Team’s “Draconian” Resale Policies
Minnesota Timberwolves season ticket holders unhappy with the team’s 20-45 record and hoping to resell their tickets have filed a putative class-action lawsuit over the team’s “draconian” ticketing policy.
We will soon know whether the Supreme Court will grant Apple’s cert petition asking the Court to review and reverse its antitrust violation for conspiring with publishers to fix the prices of e-books. The Court will consider the petition at its next conference on February 19. As we previously reported here and here, a divided Second Circuit panel affirmed the district court’s findings that the per se rule applied to Apple’s conduct and that Apple violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
MLB Pitches Around Consumers by Settling Suit, Avoiding Further Litigation on the Scope of Its Longstanding Antitrust Exemption
We’ve previously written about litigation involving the scope of Major League Baseball’s long-standing antitrust exemption. Earlier this week, on the eve of trial, MLB settled Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a class action lawsuit challenging its territorial broadcasting policy. The lead plaintiff Marc Lerner is a Mississippi resident and New York Yankee fan who was allegedly charged supracompetitive prices to watch the Yankees due to MLB’s territorial broadcast policies. Under MLB’s policy of territorially restricting television broadcasts, consumers could only watch “out-of-market” games subject to certain limitations, including a requirement to purchase every out-of-market game, even if the consumer was only interested in following a single team. By avoiding the bench trial, MLB avoided having to further litigate the scope of its unique “antitrust exemption” in front of Judge Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who had previously expressed skepticism about the continuing viability of the exemption.
Defendants Summary Judgment Motion in In re Cathode Ray Tube Antitrust Litigation May Illuminate Policy Justifications Behind Ownership or Control Exception
Earlier this month, defendants in the In re Cathode Ray Tube Antitrust Litigation moved to challenge the standing of major retailers to pursue damages claims under the Supreme Court’s 1977 Illinois Brick decision.
FTC Asserts That Its Failure to Object to a “Reverse Payment” Settlement Should Not Be Interpreted as Approval
On November 17, 2015, the FTC submitted an amicus brief to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in In re Effexor XR Antitrust Litigation, where the district court had dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims of antitrust violations based on an alleged reverse payment under FTC v. Actavis, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2223 (2013). In its brief, the FTC argues that its failure to object to a pharmaceutical patent settlement should play no role whatsoever in evaluating the legality of alleged reverse payments, and urged the Third Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision to the extent it relied on such considerations.
Third Circuit Provides Clarity to “Inextricably Intertwined” Basis of Antitrust Injury in Partially Reinstating Claims Against ShopRite
On November 12, 2015, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion partially reversing the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims in Hanover 3201 Realty, LLC v. Village Supermarkets, Inc., finding that plaintiff Hanover Realty had successfully pleaded antitrust standing with regard to certain of its claims. The Third Circuit clarified—and potentially expanded the scope of—its prior interpretations of the Supreme Court’s seminal standing decision in Blue Shield of Va. v. McCready, 457 U.S. 465 (1982), which held that a plaintiff did not necessarily need to be a consumer or a competitor of a defendant to establish antitrust injury, if it could show that its injury was “inextricably intertwined” with the injury to intended victims of an antitrust conspiracy.
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