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David Henry is a practising UK barrister, whose practice focuses on European competition law, including merger control, cartels and abuse of dominance, and the interaction between antitrust and intellectual property. He represents companies and trade associations in the aluminium, air transport, car parts, chemicals, electronics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, power generation, food retailing and financial services and payment systems sectors. He also advises clients in proceedings before the European courts and national competition authorities. David also has considerable experience in export control matters, dispute resolution and white-collar crime. Read David Henry's full bio.

Pursuant to the EU merger control rules, a transaction that falls within the purview of the EU Merger Regulation (EUMR) must be notified to the European Commission (Commission) in advance (Article 4(1) EUMR), and must not be implemented until cleared by the Commission, known as the “standstill” obligation (Article 7[1] EUMR). A principal rationale behind the standstill obligation is to prevent the potentially negative impact of transactions on the market, pending the outcome of the Commission’s investigation.

While the standstill obligation represents a clear-cut rule, it can often be a significant challenge for businesses to apply in practice. Failure to get it right, however, can result in draconian penalties. Indeed, the Commission’s recent €124.5 million fine on Altice, which comes in the wake of a spate of enforcement actions in this arena, bears testimony to an increasingly hard stance against companies flouting the notification requirement/standstill obligation. Continue Reading European Court of Justice Provides Guidance on Scope of the Standstill Obligation Enshrined in the EU Merger Regulation

United States: January – March 2018 Update

One year into the Trump administration, the US antitrust agencies are finally starting to implement their enforcement policies. Most notably, trial began in the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) challenge of the AT&T/Time Warner merger, which is the Antitrust Division’s first significant vertical challenge in several decades. Judge Richard J. Leon’s opinion in that case could alter the outlook for several other vertical transactions pending before the agencies. While the DOJ was preparing for trial, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was preparing for a transition to five new commissioners, who were approved by the Senate in April. It remains unclear whether the new, Republican-led FTC will be more moderate in its enforcement efforts, similar to prior Republican administrations, or will follow in the footsteps of President Trump’s DOJ, which has been surprisingly aggressive.

EU: January – March 2018 Update

The European Commission (EC) continued to be quite active in the first quarter of 2018, clearing five mergers. The most significant decision was the approval of a megamerger in the agrochemical sector—Bayer/Monsanto—where the parties submitted a remedy package that totalled over €6 billion. This remedy package included divestitures of research and development assets that addressed the EC’s concerns about innovation, similar to the EC’s Dow/DuPont clearance last year. In addition to Bayer/Monsanto, two other proposed acquisitions in the chemicals sectors fell through, most notably Celanese/Blackstone, due to excessive divestiture requests required by the Commission. Continue Reading Antitrust M&A Snapshot

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.

Read the full report here.

The Commission’s EUR 110 million fine on Facebook for breach of its procedural obligations under the EU merger control rules underscores the need to submit full, accurate and reliable information during the Commission’s merger control review process. An intentional or negligent failure to do so will lead to draconian fines—even where the provision of incorrect or misleading information does not have an impact on the ultimate outcome of the Commission’s decision.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: EU Commission Fines Facebook EUR 110 million for Providing Incorrect or Misleading Information

It is difficult for General Counsel and their teams to monitor all new developments adequately. With the growth of the Internet and the daily updates to EU competition rules, everyone receives and has access to masses of information, but it is difficult to select that which is really relevant to one’s business.

McDermott’s EU Competition team across Brussels, France, Germany and Italy has authored the EU Competition Annual Review 2016 to help General Counsel and their teams to focus on the essential updates that they should be aware of.

This Special Report summarizes recent developments in EU competition rules during the year 2016 where several new regulations, notices and guidelines were issued by the European Commission and many interesting cases were decided by the General Court and the EU Court of Justice.

All these new rules and judicial decisions can be relevant for international companies operating in the EU. Indeed, in addition to the daily update, this booklet provides an overview of the main recent developments in EU competition rules and can be kept as a ready reference when dealing with complex issues of EU competition law.

Read the full report.

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.

Read the full report here.

 

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.

United States: January – June Update

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice (DOJ) have been actively challenging mergers and acquisitions in the first half of 2016. In some instances, the parties abandoned their deal once the FTC or DOJ issued a complaint, in others, the parties entered into consent agreements with the agencies. In matters where a divestiture is an acceptable remedy, the FTC and DOJ have required robust divestitures with financially and competitively viable buyers. There is increasing pressure for broad divestitures and for upfront buyers in industries where the agencies do not have ample experience and where there may not be multiple competitive buyers willing to acquire the assets.

In merger challenges, the agencies have been successful in obtaining preliminary injunctions in Washington, DC, but have been less successful outside of their home court. The agencies have successfully argued price discrimination markets, where sales of products to a narrow group of customers were the market, and courts are accepting the agencies’ narrow market definition. We also see a trend in challenges due to innovation, where the merging parties are the market leaders in new developments and research and development in particular areas. Investigations continue to take many months, with many approaching or exceeding a year.

EU: January – June Update

In the EU, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of notified transactions to the European Commission (from 277 notifications in 2013 to 337 in 2015). Most of these transactions have been cleared by the EU regulator in Phase I without any commitments. However, there have still been a number of antitrust interventions requiring the merging parties to offer, often far-reaching, remedies. One industry has recently seen a particularly high ratio of antitrust intervention is the telecoms sector. For example, in the merger between the mobile operators Telenor and TeliaSonera, the parties abandoned the transaction due to European Commission opposition to the transaction. The European Commission publicly announced that the transaction would not have been cleared, and that the remedies offered by the companies were not convincing. A prohibition decision was also issued, despite the offered remedies, in the failed combination of Telefónica UK’s “O2” and Hutchison 3G UK’s “Three”. This transaction involved the longest merger control review by the European Commission to end up in a prohibition decision (243 calendar days, compared to the average of 157 calendar days to block a deal).

With regard to current trends in merger control remedies at the level of the European Commission, there continues to be a strong preference for structural remedies. Approximately 70 percent of merger remedy decisions between 2011 and 2015 involved divestitures. The European Commission prefers structural remedies because they entail a lasting structural change and there is no need for long-term monitoring.

Click here to review the full report.

McDermott has published an EU Competition Annual Review for 2015. This 87 page booklet will help General Counsel and their teams focus on the most essential EU competition updates for 2015. Beyond being used to understand recent developments, this booklet is a great reference when dealing with complex issues of EU competition law.

Read the full Annual Review here.

On 1 October 2015 the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) entered into force, bringing with it a raft of changes pertaining to consumer protection law and competition law litigation. These changes were discussed in an article featured in our most recent issue of our flagship publication, International News: Focus on Tax (Issue 3 2015).

The CRA 2015 sets the scene for the future proliferation of competition damages actions in the United Kingdom and consolidates the country’s reputation as one of the most advanced competition regimes in Europe.

The new rules introduce a series of significant changes to facilitate claims, including the establishment of a fast-track procedure for simple claims, the introduction of a collective settlement regime, and an extension of the limitation period for actions before the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), the United Kingdom’s specialist competition law tribunal.

Arguably the most controversial and high-profile measure is the introduction of collective proceedings before the CAT which, subject to the CAT’s discretion, can be brought on an opt-in or opt-out basis for both follow-on and stand-alone claims.

The CAT will certify claims that are eligible for inclusion in collective proceedings. In this regard the following three conditions must be met. There must be an identifiable class; the claim must raise common issues; and it must be suitable for collective proceedings, taking into account, inter alia, whether or not collective proceedings are an appropriate means for the fair and efficient resolution of the common issues, the costs and benefits of the collective proceedings, and the size and nature of the class.

If the CAT decides that collective proceedings are appropriate, it then determines whether the proceedings should be “opt-in” or “opt-out”.  The CAT will take into account all the circumstances, including the estimated amount of damages that individual class members may recover, the strength of the claims, and whether it is practical for the proceedings to be brought on an opt-in or opt-out basis.

If appropriate, the CAT will also authorise an applicant to act as class representative.  The representative must not have, in relation to the common issues for the class members, a material interest that is in conflict with the interests of the class members, and must be someone who would act fairly and adequately in the interests of all class members.

In order to prevent the rise of a “litigation culture”, certain safeguards are included. For instance, the CAT may not award exemplary damages in collective actions, and contingency fees, i.e., damages-based agreements whereby the lawyers are paid a proportion of the damages obtained, are not permitted in opt-out collective actions.

There will no doubt be considerable up-front litigation surrounding the issue of class certification before the first cases get off the ground. It is likely, however, that the mere threat of class actions before the CAT will represent a powerful weapon in the hands of the claimant when negotiating a settlement.

The long-awaited ruling on the seeking of injunctions in the context of standard-essential patents encumbered by fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms has been delivered by the Court of Justice of the European Union, in Huawei v. ZTE C 170/130. Although the judgment lays down the legal test applicable to injunctions involving standard-essential patents, and significantly clarifies the landscape that had previously been shaped by the European Commission, a number of issues remain unresolved.

Huawei Technologies entered into negotiations with ZTE Corporation over the possibility of concluding a licence agreement in relation to Huawei’s patent that is essential to the long-term evolution (commonly known as 4G) standard, on FRAND terms. Given that negotiations between the companies were unsuccessful, and because Huawei contends that ZTE continued using the standard-essential patent (SEP) without paying royalties, Huawei brought an infringement action against ZTE, seeking an injunction to stop the sale of certain ZTE products.

In adjudicating the matter, the Regional Court of Düsseldorf considered that the outcome of the litigation largely depended on whether or not the action brought by Huawei constituted an abuse of dominance. Given this consideration, and the uncertainty surrounding the topic of SEP injunctions, the Court made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU. The Court asked in what circumstances a dominant SEP holder, who has committed to grant licences to third parties on FRAND terms, can seek an injunction to stop an infringement of that SEP, or to recall products manufactured using the SEP, is to be regarded as committing an abuse contrary to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The Test for SEP Injunctions

The CJEU decided that the following conditions must be satisfied before a dominant SEP licensor can validly bring an injunction against a party infringing an SEP, without acting contrary to Article 102 TFEU.

Notification From The SEP Holder

Prior to taking any action, a SEP holder that has given an irrevocable undertaking to a standardisation body to grant a licence to third parties on FRAND terms, must alert the alleged infringer to the infringement complained about. This prior notice must designate the SEP in question, and specify the way in which it has been infringed.

“Willingness” of The Alleged Infringer

After the alleged infringer has been informed about the infringement, it must (somehow) express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement on FRAND terms. Presumably, this willingness refers to the alleged infringer agreeing to receive a FRAND offer from the SEP holder. It would seem, therefore, that an alleged infringer who is not prepared to enter into any sort of bona fide negotiations would be presumed to be unwilling.

Unfortunately, although the CJEU refers to the concept of “willingness”, it does not address the criteria for determining the alleged infringer’s willingness. The ruling therefore does not make it entirely clear what the potential licensee should do in order to be treated as willing.

FRAND Offer

The SEP holder must present to the alleged infringer a specific, written offer for a licence on FRAND terms, in accordance with the undertaking given to the relevant standardisation body. In particular, this written offer must specify the amount of the royalty, and the way in which that royalty is to be calculated.

Although the CJEU’s judgment does not elaborate on what is to be considered as FRAND, it states that the SEP holder may not discriminate between licensees, i.e., the licence terms must be comparable with the licensing arrangements the SEP holder has already concluded with other competitors. The CJEU therefore places the burden of knowing what is FRAND on the licensor. Regardless of whether or not the licensor is able to discharge this burden, the ruling does not help the licensee, who has no guidance on determining whether or not the licence it has been offered is actually FRAND-compliant, particularly as it doesn’t have access to the licensor’s existing agreements.

Response to FRAND Offer

The alleged infringer must respond to the FRAND offer, in accordance with recognised commercial practices in the field, and in good faith. The alleged infringer must not engage in any delaying tactics.

If the alleged infringer is deemed to be using delaying tactics once a FRAND offer has been presented by the SEP holder, e.g., if the alleged infringer causes any undue delays in the negotiations, this may point towards its “unwillingness” and prevent it from using Article 102 TFEU in a counterclaim against the SEP holder. The CJEU judgment also, however, states (albeit in rather loose terms) that the alleged infringer “cannot be criticised” for challenging the validity of the SEP and/or its essential nature. The combination of these two requirements might therefore lead to a problem if, for example, the alleged infringer accepts the FRAND offer, but does so on the condition that validity of all the relevant IP rights be confirmed before the courts.
The infringer’s response to the FRAND offer will usually be one of the following:

Acceptance of the FRAND offer, in which case the SEP holder cannot seek an injunction, but can claim damages for the unlicensed use of the SEP
Rejection of the FRAND offer, which presumably makes the alleged infringer an “unwilling” licensee and therefore enables the SEP holder to seek injunctive relief
Submission of a FRAND-compliant counter-offer, to which the SEP holder must respond before taking any further steps.

Counter-Offer

If the alleged infringer wishes to submit a counter-offer, it must do so promptly and in writing, and in compliance with FRAND terms.

This is an important requirement because, under most national systems, an offer presented in writing will be contractually enforceable by the SEP holder. This may imply that “willingness” is a behavioural condition, i.e., that mere statements by the alleged infringer do not amount to willingness, but a concrete step has to be taken before the alleged infringer can rely on an Article 102 TFEU defence.

This seems to place an even heavier burden on the alleged infringer, for whom it may potentially be a lot more difficult to determine what corresponds to FRAND terms, particularly in light of the inherent information asymmetry between the SEP holder and the potential licensee.

Rejection of The Counter-Offer

Security

According to the CJEU, if the alleged infringer has already been using the SEP without a licence, it must provide appropriate security e.g., though a bank guarantee or the placing of funds in a deposit account, from the point at which the counter-offer is rejected.

Third Party Determination

If the parties are unable to agree bilaterally on the details of the FRAND terms following the counter-offer by the alleged infringer, the parties “may” request that the amount of the royalty be determined by an independent third party. Although reasonable at first sight, the application of this step remains rather unclear. The wording in the judgment suggests that the parties are not obliged to seek third-party determination, but that they “may” do so. It is also not clear what consequences would follow if one of the parties rejected the proposal to have a court or an arbitrator decide on the level of royalties.

Injunction

If the alleged infringer continues to use the patent in question and has not diligently responded, either by accepting the FRAND offer or by submitting a FRAND counter-offer, the SEP holder may seek an injunction stopping the infringement or seek the recall of products made using the SEP , without risking Article 102 TFEU scrutiny.

By making it a condition that the alleged infringer must still be using the patent in question for the SEP holder to seek injunctive relief, the CJEU draws a clear distinction between an injunction based on the alleged infringement of an SEP and proceedings brought with a view to obtaining the rendering of accounts or an award of damages. This means that, notwithstanding the multiple steps and requirements that have to be followed when seeking an injunction, if the SEP holder only intends to pursue an action for damages for the unlicensed use of its SEP, Article 102 TFEU cannot be invoked by the alleged infringer.

Comment

The CJEU’s judgment sets out the final, general and legally binding test applicable to injunctions based on an infringement of a FRAND-encumbered SEP sought by a dominant market player.

To a large extent, the ruling reflects the European Commission’s earlier efforts to regulate the practices in question. That said, it is difficult to say whether or not the pro-licensee safe harbour envisaged by the European Commission has been fully embraced by the CJEU in its current decision. The number of issues that remain unresolved, e.g., in relation to the existence of dominance on the part of the SEP holder, the definition of “willingness”, or the meaning of FRAND, potentially makes the legal test less useful in practice.

Licensors and potential licensees are therefore still advised to take caution when structuring transactions involving SEPs.

Mafalda de Oliveira Dias and Michal Kocon, Trainee solicitors also contributed to this article.