The Chinese government announced on March 13, 2018, that it will consolidate the duties of three competition agencies into a new government agency to handle all antitrust matters. While it is too early to tell how this reorganization will impact China’s review of transactions and conduct cases, we believe that this change could lead to greater consistency and potentially more experienced attorneys reviewing competition matters.
United States: July – December 2017 Update
Although delays in antitrust appointments continued throughout the second half of 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) continued to actively investigate and challenge mergers and acquisitions. Notably, the DOJ challenged the vertical AT&T/Time Warner transaction, the first vertical merger the DOJ has tried since the 1970s. The end of 2017 showed a trend where the FTC and DOJ are focusing on structural remedies rather than behavioral remedies. Additionally, at the end of 2017, the FTC and DOJ challenged several consummated transactions, as well as transactions that were not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.
European Union: July – December 2017 Update
After two concentrations within the agrochemicals sector in the second quarter of 2017 — Dow/DuPont and ChemChina/Syngenta — the European Commission continued to see megamergers notifications in the agrochemical sector in the second half of 2017. The fourth quarter of 2017 saw the second Commission merger decision challenged successfully this year and the fourth case of annulment of a clearance decision since the implementation of the EU Merger Regulation.
Snapshot of Events (Legislation/Agency Remarks/Speeches/News, etc.)
- Seats at the FTC Remain Unfilled Despite Continued Progress in the Appointment of New Antitrust Leadership
After a long wait, on September 27, the Senate confirmed Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s nominee to head DOJ’s antitrust division. The DOJ has also named several deputies to serve under Delrahim: Andrew Finch, Bernard Nigro, Luke Froeb, Donald Kempf and Roger Alford. These positions are not subject to Senate confirmation.
President Trump nominated four Commissioners for the FTC, including Joseph Simons to lead the FTC as Chairman. Joe Simons is an experienced antitrust attorney who was previously Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. He has mainstream Republican views. Until the new Commissioners are confirmed, there must presently be unanimity between the two Commissioners for the FTC to take action.
- FTC Warns That It May Challenge Vertical Mergers
Acting Bureau of Competition Director, Bruce Hoffman, gave remarks at the Global Antitrust Enforcement Symposium on September 13, 2017. He said that the FTC would be ready to challenge vertical mergers if there were competition issues to resolve. He added that the FTC may impose structural remedies in vertical mergers where it views the remedy as necessary to prevent competitive harm.
- Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) Introduces New Legislation to Curtail Market Concentration and Enhance Antitrust Scrutiny of Mergers and Acquisitions
On September 14, 2017, two bills were introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar to the Senate: the Consolidation Prevention and Competition PromotionAct (CPCPA) and the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act (MEIA). Both bills are part of the Senate Democrats’ “A Better Deal” antitrust agenda. The CPCPA would impose extra scrutiny on so-called “mega deals” by shifting the burden of proof from antitrust enforcers to the companies. It would also update the Clayton Act to refer to “monopsonies” in addition to “monopolies.” The MEIA would increase the resources allocated to antitrust enforcers, both in terms of substantive information and financial terms.
- DOJ To Focus on Structural Remedies
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim gave remarks at the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law’s Fall Forum on November 16, 2017. He announced that DOJ would seek to reduce the number of long-term consent decrees and focus on structural remedies instead of behavioral remedies.
- Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) Criticizes Recent Antitrust Enforcement
In a speech at the Open Markets Institute on December 6, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren advocated steps to improve antitrust enforcement. On mergers, she stated that increased enforcement is needed not just for horizontal mergers between direct competitors, but also for vertical mergers.
- Application of EU Merger Control Clarified: Non-Full Function Existing Joint Ventures Fall outside the Scope of EU Merger Control
On September 7, 2017, the European Court of Justice decided that, where joint control is acquired over a new or existing undertaking (or parts of an undertaking), that transaction can only fall within the scope of the EU Merger Regulation where the resulting entity will be ‘full-function.’
- Marine Harvest Gun Jumping Fine Upheld by the General Court
On October 26, the General Court confirmed the €20 million fine imposed by the Commission on Norwegian salmon farmer Marine Harvest in 2014 for allegedly implementing its acquisition of salmon producer Morpol ASA before notifying and receiving clearance from the Commission.
While Marine Harvest had been in contact with the Commission since December 2012, it only formally notified the acquisition of Morpol ASA on 9 August 2013. The Commission held, and the General Court agreed, that the company’s merger filing obligation was triggered several months earlier, when Marine Harvest acquired a 48.5 percent controlling shareholding in Morpol ASA in December 2012.
- EC Is Ramping Up Enforcement: Conditional Merger Clearances Doubled during Margrethe Vestager’s First Three Years
Since the start of Vestager’s tenure on November 1, 2014, the Commission cleared a total of 70 deals subject to commitments, whereas between February 2010 and February 2013 — Joaquin Almunia’s first three years in the Commission — 34 deals were approved conditionally. Vestager sought remedies in 6.8 percent of cases, while Almunia only required them in 3.9 percent.
In 2014–2017, 55 conditional clearances were granted in Phase I, while 15 were Phase II cases. Between 2010 and 2013 there were 25 Phase I conditional clearances and 9 Phase II, according to data from the EC’s merger database.
On 20 December 2017, the French Competition Authority (the FCA) imposed a EUR 25 million fine on a pharmaceutical laboratory, for delaying entry onto the market of the generic version of Durogesic, and for hindering its development through a disparagement campaign.
No public version of the decision is available yet, nonetheless the FCA has already published a detailed press release (available in French).
Durogesic is a powerful opioid analgesic, which active substance is fentanyl, usually prescribed in the form of transdermal patch for the treatment of severe pain, including chronic cancer pain. In 2007, a competing pharmaceutical company launched its generic equivalent. Continue Reading French Competition Authority Fines a Pharmaceutical Laboratory EUR 25 Million for Anti-Generic Practices
On October 19, 2017, the French Competition Authority (the “FCA”) imposed a EUR 302 million fine on the three leading companies in the PVC and linoleum floor coverings sector; Forbo, Gerflor and Tarkett, as well as the industry’s trade association, SFEC (Syndicat Français des Enducteurs Calandreurs et Fabricants de Revêtements de Sols et Murs), for price-fixing, sharing commercially sensitive information, and signing a non-compete agreement relating to environmental performance advertising.
The FCA said the significant fine reflected the gravity of the offence and the long duration of the anticompetitive behavior, which for one company lasted 23 years.
The proceedings were originally initiated by unannounced inspections carried out in the floor coverings industry in 2013 by the FCA, acting on information submitted by the DGCCRF (Directorate General for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control), which resulted in the discovery of three distinct anticompetitive practices.
The FCA found that the three main manufacturers of floor coverings in France met secretly at so-called “1, 2, 3” meetings, from October 2001 to September 2011, at hotels, on the margins of official meetings of the SFEC or through dedicated telephone lines, in order to discuss minimum prices and price increases for their products. The manufacturers also entered into agreements covering a great deal of other sensitive information, such as the strategies to adopt with regard to specific customers or competitors, organization of sales activities and sampling of new products.
Confidential information exchange via the trade association
The FCA found that from 1990 until the start of the FCA’s investigations in 2013, Forbo, Gerflor and Tarkett also exchanged, in the context of official meetings of the SFEC, very precise information relating to their trading volumes, revenues per product category and business forecasts. In its decision, the FCA also raised the active role played by the SFEC, supporting companies in their conduct.
Non-compete agreement relating to environmental performance advertising
The three main manufacturers of floor coverings in France, together with the trade association, also signed a ‘non-compete’ agreement which prevented each company from advertising the individual environmental performance of its products. The FCA considered that this agreement may have acted as a disincentive for manufacturers to innovate and offer new products, earmarked by better environmental performance, compared to the products offered by their competitors.
Neither the manufacturers nor the trade association disputed the facts and all of them sought a settlement procedure. In addition, Forbo and Tarkett, leniency applicants, benefited from fine reductions corresponding to the respective dates they approached the FCA (the sooner, the higher the fine reduction), the quality of the evidence they provided and their cooperation during the investigation.
WHAT THIS MEANS
The FCA’s decision in the floor coverings cartel case has significant impact due to the total amount of the fines imposed which is (i) higher than the aggregate amount of sanctions imposed by the FCA in 2016 (i.e., EUR 202,873,000), and (ii) until now the highest fine imposed by the FCA in 2017, the FCA having imposed a EUR 100 million fine on Engie for abusing its dominant position in the gas market (Decision No. 17-D-06 of 21 March 2017) and a EUR 40 million fine on Altice and SFR for non-compliance with an agreement made during the acquisition of SFR by the Altice group (Decision No. 17-D-04 of 8 March 2017).
This decision is the first application of the new settlement procedure introduced by the Macron Law of 6 August 2015. This new procedure replaced the previous “no challenge” procedure (“non-contestation des griefs”) pursuant to which companies could only negotiate a percentage reduction without knowing the original amount of the fine. Under the new procedure, the companies’ discussion with the FCA will focus directly on the minimum and maximum amount of the fine and will no longer be limited to a reduction rate applicable to a hypothetical amount of the fine.
This is also the first decision in France where the new settlement procedure and the leniency procedure have been cumulated.
Finally, the FCA raised the very serious nature of the infringement, which lasted for a long time and involved the majority of the market players (between 65% and 85% of the market from 2001 until 2012). This decision sends once again a clear message to companies that cartels and exchanges of competitively sensitive information remain one of FCA’s main priorities. Therefore, discussions in the context of trade association meetings should be approached carefully and in accordance with prior legal advice.
McDermott’s Antitrust M&A Snapshot is a resource for in-house counsel and others who deal with antitrust M&A issues but are not faced with these issues on a daily basis. In each quarterly issue, we will provide concise summaries of Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ) and European Commission (EC) news and events related to M&A, including significant ongoing investigations, trials and consent orders, as well as analysis on the trends we see developing in the antitrust review process.
On July 24, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an antitrust counterclaim brought by ICTSI Oregon, Inc. (ICTSI), the operator of a marine shipping facility, against the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). ILWU is a labor union that represents many ICTSI employees, including longshoremen and mechanics. PMA is a multi-employer collective bargaining association covering the West Coast of the United States, which represents employers, including ICTSI, in negotiations with labor unions.
The opinion elucidates the current law surrounding the scope of Noerr-Pennington immunity and the implied labor exemption to antitrust liability.
- ICTSI’s antitrust counterclaim arose out of a labor dispute concerning ILWU’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with PMA, which required that all “reefer work” (i.e., plugging, unplugging and monitoring refrigerated shipping containers) performed by PMA members must be assigned to ILWU workers. When ICTSI instead assigned its reefer work to a rival union, the collective bargaining agreement administrator, the Joint Coast Labor Relations Committee, notified ICTSI that it was in violation of the CBA and faced monetary fines and expulsion from the collective bargaining association.
- ICTSI initiated a proceeding before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to resolve the dispute. The NLRB ruled that the rival union workers were entitled to the reefer work. While the NLRB proceedings were pending, ILWU and PMA filed suits in the US District Court for the District of Oregon seeking an injunction ordering ICTSI to comply with the Joint Committee decision and assign the work to ILWU.
In an antitrust case involving bundled discount on sutures, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Cardinal Health 200, LLC and Owens & Micro Distribution, Inc. The Tenth Circuit held that Plaintiff-Appellant Suture Express, Inc. could not prove that the defendants individually possessed market power and that it had not demonstrated that defendants caused substantial adverse effects on competition.
- Suture Express, a distributor focused on the sale of sutures, sued Cardinal Health and Owens & Micro, which are national distributors of a broad array of medical-surgical products, claiming that they had engaged in illegal tying through their practice of bundling sutures with other medical-surgical products in a manner that penalized customers that purchased sutures from other suppliers.
- The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment and the lower court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The court held that Suture Express’ claims failed as a matter of law because it could not prove that the defendants individually possessed market power. The court also held that Suture Express could not meet the antitrust injury requirement because it had not shown that competition had been harmed.
- The Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. On the issue of market power, the appellate court agreed with the lower courts’ findings that the defendants’ market shares on the alleged tying products (medical-surgical products excluding sutures) were relatively low (31 percent and 38 percent), there were many examples of customers switching to other distributors, and the defendants’ declining profit margins on medical-surgical products excluding sutures demonstrated that the defendants did not have the ability to control prices.
- With respect to antitrust injury, the Tenth Circuit stated that the antitrust laws are meant to protect competition, not individual competitors. The appellate court noted that despite the fact that roughly half of the market was not constrained by the bundling arrangement at issue, Suture Express accounted for a relatively small portion of this piece of the market. This raised the question of whether it was just Suture Express that was harmed as opposed to competition generally.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- Establishing market power when defendants have relatively low market shares is difficult. While market shares in and of themselves are not determinative of whether market power exists, the courts give market shares significant weight and when evidence of low market shares is combined with the other factors the Tenth Circuit found here, it is difficult for a plaintiff to meet its burden.
- Vertical pricing arrangements that offer discounts to customers, even if associated with a bundling arrangement, are often viewed as procompetitive. A plaintiff has the difficult burden of showing that a defendant’s bundle creates anticompetitive effects that outweigh its procompetitive effects. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the arrangement caused harm not only to the plaintiff, but to competition as a whole. Even if a plaintiff finds it difficult to compete against a defendant’s bundle, if customers have shown that they are willing and able to switch from the defendant’s bundle, establishing harm to competition will be a challenge.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) challenged a consummated transaction using a monopolization theory to allege that the acquisition would eliminate “nascent” competition for therapeutic adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) in the United States.
- Questcor Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s (Questcor) H.P. Acthar Gel (Acthar) is the only ACTH product sold in the US, is the standard of care for infantile spasms and is indicated for several other diseases.
- In 2013, Questcor acquired the US rights to Synacthen Depot (Synacthen) from Novartis. Questcor was subsequently acquired by Mallinckrodt.
- Synacthen is pharmacologically very similar to Acthar, as the active ingredient in both drugs is an ACTH molecule.
- At the time of the acquisition by Questcor, Novartis’ Synacthen had been used safely and effectively for decades in Europe, Canada and other parts of the world to treat patients suffering from infantile spasms and other diseases. Synacthen had not yet begun US clinical trials.
- The FTC alleged a monopolization theory—that Questcor had “extinguished a nascent competitive threat to its monopoly” by outbidding several other companies who were interested in bringing Synacthen to market in the US to compete with Questcor’s Acthar.
- Then FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez (she has since resigned) noted that Questcor had a history of taking advantage of its monopoly, repeatedly raising the price of Acthar “from $40 per vial in 2001 to more than $34,000 per vial today—an 85,000 percent increase.”
- The FTC settlement requires a $100 million monetary payment and that Mallinckrodt (Questcor was acquired by Mallinckrodt) license Synacthen for treating infantile spasms and nephrotic syndrome to an FTC approved licensee.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- In some circumstances, an action by a monopolist to block a nascent threat to its monopoly can violate the antitrust laws.
- Typically, the FTC does not challenge pharmaceutical overlaps involving pharmaceuticals that have not yet entered Phase 3 clinical trials because there is still significant uncertainty that a product will ultimately come to market.
- The FTC appears to have made an exception to its typical practice because Synacthen was anticipated to gain US approval easily and compete significantly with Acthar. Synacthen was approved outside the US for decades and was understood to be a safe and effective ACTH treatment.
- The FTC may bring an action at any time under Section 7 to determine the legality of an acquisition. However, the FTC challenged this consummated transaction under a Section 2 theory of monopolization. The FTC has many tools to challenge actions under the antitrust laws.
On February 9, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a ruling by the US District Court for the District of Delaware that indirect purchasers of Class 8 transmissions did not meet the requirements for class certification. The Third Circuit found that only the individual claims may proceed in the case. The opinion is significant because it reaffirms the difficulty indirect purchaser plaintiffs face when attempting to certify a class.
On 19 January 2017, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) and the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) signed a memorandum of understanding in order to increase enforcement in the pharmaceutical sector by strengthening their investigation powers and facilitating the exchange of data. Under the agreement, AGCM and AIFA will inform each other on cases concerning alleged violations of rules enforced by one of them. In particular, in case of negotiations carried out by AIFA with pharmaceutical companies on the applicable drugs prices, or whether counterfeiting cases regarding pharmaceutical products emerge during an investigation. Furthermore, the authorities will cooperate in their advocacy activities and in carrying out sector enquiries. Finally, the authorities will exchange information and data on matters of common interest.