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Jon B. Dubrow assists clients across a host of inter-related antitrust issues, including mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions / merger clearance, counseling and litigation. Jon leads the defense of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures before the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and foreign competition authorities. He also regularly assists third parties whose interests are adversely affected by proposed transactions. Jon also is experienced in antitrust litigation. He provides counseling on distribution issues, contracting arrangements and a wide variety of other competition-related matters. Read Jon Dubrow's full bio.

The challenges that the government faces in litigating vertical mergers was illustrated in the DOJ’s recent loss in its challenge of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner. The result provides guidance for how companies can improve their odds of obtaining antitrust approval for similar transactions.

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The recent FTC decision in the Northrop Grumman / Orbital ATK matter has shed light on the agency’s vertical merger enforcement policy and outlined a path to antitrust merger clearance for the Aerospace and Defense industry. The FTC’s June 5 consent decree shows behavioral remedies remain a viable solution if the parties can prove both that the DoD would benefit from the transaction and that those benefits would be lost if the agency required a divestiture.

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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

At the one year anniversary of the Trump administration, antitrust merger enforcement remains similar to the Obama administration, but it is still early to judge given the delays in antitrust appointments and given the DOJ’s lawsuit against the vertical AT&T/Time Warner transaction, the first vertical merger litigation in decades.  Below are some of the recent developments that have impacted merger enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as European regulators.

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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 FTC’s recent consent agreement addressing concerns regarding Emerson Electric Co.’s (Emerson) acquisition of Pentair Plc (Pentair) demonstrates a continued focus on whether transactions will reduce the incentive for merging parties to develop new, innovative products in the future. This is the latest in a string of cases which show that when the antitrust regulators raise innovation concerns, the merging parties need to propose a remedy that will involve the necessary research and development resources for the products at issue.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • The FTC alleged that the acquisition combines the two largest suppliers of switchboxes, which monitor and control certain valves that regulate the follow of liquids through pipes in industrial applications.
  • The FTC found that switchbox customers have a distinct preference for Pentair’s and Emerson’s switchbox brands, which account for approximately 60 percent of the switchbox market in the United States.
  • The FTC was concerned that the transaction would reduce innovation in the switchbox industry.
  • The parties reached a consent agreement whereby Emerson would divest Pentair’s switchbox manufacturer subsidiary, including all facilities, personnel, and intellectual property associated with Pentair’s design and manufacturing of switchboxes.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • The Emerson/Pentair transaction is the latest in a string of transactions where regulators in the US and the EU have raised concerns that a transaction would lead to less innovation in the relevant market.
    • In 2015, Applied Materials abandoned its acquisition of Tokyo Electron after the DOJ raised concerns that the transaction would lessen competition for products in the merging parties’ pipelines and decrease the incentive for innovation generally.
    • The DOJ’s 2016 complaint to block the Halliburton/Baker Hughes transaction emphasized that the merging parties “possess unrivaled product portfolios, research and innovation capabilities, and the scope and scale necessary to address the most difficult technological challenges facing the oil and gas industry they serve.”
    • In March of this year, the European Commission cleared the merger of Dow and DuPont on the condition that the merging parties would divest DuPont’s global pesticide research and development division due to concerns that the transaction would have reduced the number of players that “are globally active throughout the entire research and development (R&D) process.”
  • These cases show two significant trends:
    • First, the agencies are likely to investigate not only reductions in competition among existing products, but also whether potential transactions combine competing innovation sources in an industry.
    • Second, regulators with innovation concerns will seek remedies that divest stand-alone business units that deal with the products at issue, including any necessary research and development resources. Merging parties that are structured with separate research and development departments that address multiple product lines may need to develop a creative solution that alleviates a regulator’s concerns about future innovation.

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 McDermott’s 1Q2017 M&A Snapshot.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) reinforces the perils of competitor information exchanges by challenging alleged communications between DirecTV and other video programmers related to broadcast rights for Los Angeles (LA) Dodgers baseball.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • In November 2016, the DOJ filed an antitrust complaint against DirecTV. DOJ alleged:
    • The LA Dodgers sought to sell broadcast rights to their baseball games to cable and satellite TV companies.
    • DirecTV was a potential bidder for Dodgers’ rights, as were other cable companies operating in the LA area.
    • DirectTV entered into agreements with competing cable companies to exchange information relating to their negotiations with the LA Dodgers.
    • As a result of the information learned through these information exchanges, the various potential bidders did not compete aggressively for Dodgers broadcast rights because they gained information about their rivals’ negotiating positions.
    • The negotiations dragged on, and since no programmer had broadcast rights, people in LA could not watch Dodgers games on television.
    • Notably, DOJ did not allege that the broadcasters reached any price fixing or market allocation agreement.
  • In late March, DirecTV settled with the DOJ and entered into a consent order that precludes it from providing non-public, competitively sensitive information to a competitor or seeking such information from competitors.
    • There are exceptions to allow exchanges in connection with legitimate due diligence, collaborative ventures or commercial vendor/vendee arrangements.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • While not surprising, this case reinforces that information exchanges between competitors creates substantial antitrust risk.
  • Exchanges can create antitrust exposure even if there is no agreement between the competitors on pricing or other competitive decisions, and compliance programs should reinforce this principle.
  • Agreements or coordination among buyers raise the same types of competitive issues as agreements among sellers.
    • In this case, the Dodgers were the sellers and DirecTV and programmers were the buyers.
    • Another recent example is the FTC/DOJ guidance issued last fall on anticompetitive agreements among employers, such as “no poach” or “no solicit” agreements, which DOJ stated it may prosecute criminally if they are “naked” agreements, unrelated to a legitimate activity such as a joint venture.
  • The antitrust laws protect the competitive process rather than low prices.
    • A competitive market for the sale of products often leads to lower priced goods and services.
    • In this case, DOJ alleged that DirecTV and the other providers exchanged information to prevent the Dodgers from raising the price for Dodgers’ broadcasts, but that did not legitimize the conduct.

Transactions that meet the Hart-Scott-Rodino thresholds for notification must be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and Department of Justice. Where a notified transaction raises competition concerns, the reviewing agency may decide to launch an in-depth investigation and request additional information from the merging parties, known as a “Second Request,” which can take several months and cost companies millions of dollars to fully respond. Under FTC Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen’s leadership, however, the burden of a Second Request may decrease, as she intends to narrow their scope.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Acting Chairwoman Ohlhausen has signaled that Second Requests will be more limited under her leadership, based on comments made on February 15, 2017 at a Washington conference.
  • The standard for initiating a Second Request will not change. However, once initiated, Second Requests will be narrower in scope, in terms of markets assessed and data requested from companies.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • The standard used by the FTC to initiate such investigations will not change; thus, complex transactions raising competition concerns will likely still face a Second Request.
  • However, the time and cost associated with complying with a Second Request may be reduced, which will be good news for companies who may face a shorter review at a lower cost.
  • This business-friendly approach is consistent with Commissioner Ohlhausen’s guiding principles of “regulatory humility, […] the power of competitive markets, and a devotion to empiricism” and her objective to “minimiz[e] the burdens on legitimate businesses”. As such, it may be one of further changes to come in FTC enforcement.

The FTC’s Path Ahead.

Statement of Acting FTC Chairman Ohlhausen on Appointment by President Trump.