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Louise Aberg focuses her practice on US, EU and French antitrust law, including merger control, cartels, and abuse of dominance. Louise also regularly advises clients in relation to distribution strategies and compliance programs. She represents clients before the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the European Commission, and the French Competition Authority. Read Louise Aberg's full bio.

Overview of Current Cartel Investigations

Although the third quarter of 2018 saw guilty pleas and new indictments in several current Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, 2018 continues a downward trend in antitrust enforcement. At its current pace, DOJ’s annual 2018 fines will end around $300 million—well short of the billion-dollar plus highs in 2014 and 2015, during the height of the auto parts and foreign exchange investigations. The same downward trends exists in the EU, where the European Commission did not render any cartel decisions in the third quarter of 2018. Nonetheless, in a sign of things to come, the Commission took significant procedural steps in the ethanol benchmarks and car emissions cases.

US Developments

  • We learned of two new DOJ investigations in the third quarter. First, two executives were arrested on charges of fixing prices of freight forwarding services of containerized goods destined for international shipping. This investigation appears to be distinct from the DOJ’s investigation of roll-on/roll-off international shipping services for vehicles. Second, a foam maker stated in its July 2018 complaint against several chemical companies that the DOJ is investigating the polyurethane industry. The DOJ has not announced an investigation in the polyurethane industry, but one defendant in the foam maker’s case confirmed the existence of the investigation.
  • The DOJ secured two more guilty pleas in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging of public real estate foreclosure auctions, one in Mississippi and one in Florida. Unlike the typical case involving auctions on the courthouse steps, the Florida case involved a real estate investor rigging bids in online public foreclosure auctions.
  • Eleven state attorneys general have initiated investigations into the use of “no-poach” clauses in employment contracts. The Washington State Attorney General is most active, obtaining agreements from 30 nationwide franchise chains to eliminate the practice of including no-poach clauses in their franchise contracts. While the Washington AG’s investigation first focused on fast-food chains, its investigation has since expanded into other industries.

EU Developments

  • The Commission sent a Statement of Objections to two companies in the biofuels sector for conduct concerning ethanol benchmarks. A third company is in settlement talks with the Commission.
  • In July 2018, the General Court of the EU confirmed a fine that the Commission had imposed on an investment bank for the conduct of its subsidiary in the power cables cartel on the basis of the parental liability presumption. This is noteworthy because the investment bank held less than 91% of the subsidiary’s shares.
  • In September 2018, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation into possible collusion between German car manufacturers on emissions control systems.
  • Also in September, the Commission sent a Statement of Objections to a rail company for obstructing its investigation during a dawn raid. The company provided incorrect information and deleted data from a computer. The dawn raid was part of an investigation in the rail passenger transport sector.

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WHAT HAPPENED

  • The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently investigating whether advertising sales teams for competing television station owners engaged in anticompetitive conduct regarding communications on performance levels. Per the Journal’s reporting:
  • DOJ is investigating whether the purported communications led to higher rates for television commercials.
  • DOJ’s industry-wide investigation developed from its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s (Sinclair) proposed acquisition of Tribune Media (Tribune).
  • As part of the DOJ’s merger review, Sinclair and Tribune received a “Second Request.” Responding to a Second Request typically involves the production of a wide range of company documents regarding competition in the industry under investigation.
  • Many times in the past, merging parties’ Second Request responses have led to separate anticompetitive conduct cases. A few notable examples are provided below:
  • In April 2018, DOJ brought a civil complaint alleging that three rail equipment companies had no-poaching agreements that depressed salaries and competition for their employees. The agreements were discovered during the review of an acquisition involving two of the three companies.
  • In 2003, DOJ filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block the acquisition of Morgan Adhesives Company by UPM-Kymmene and, at the same time, opened a criminal investigation into price-fixing conduct in the labelstock industry.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: Collateral Risk in Merger Reviews

WHAT HAPPENED

On July 18, 2018, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb delivered a speech at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, discussing how to bolster competition from biosimilars while maintaining innovation.

The Commissioner noted the absence of true competition among biologics from biosimilar products in the United States, similarly to what the country experienced 30 years ago with respect to generics. The Commissioner said that this situation is caused, in part, by what he views as anticompetitive practices implemented by branded manufacturers, such as:

  • Rebating schemes in which drug manufacturers bundle discounts to health insurers and employers across different pharmaceutical products;
  • Multi-year contracts granting important rebates to payors, often entered into right before the entry of a biosimilar on the market;
  • Volume-based rebates;
  • Tying rebates, i.e., when rebates are offered if a product is bought together with a biologic;
  • Patent thickets, i.e., when branded manufacturers’ own dense portfolios of overlapping intellectual property rights cover biologics; and
  • Bundling biologics with other products, i.e., when a product is sold together with a biologic.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: FTC to Look Closely at Competition between Biologics and Biosimilars and Patent Protection Strategies of Branded Manufacturers

The second quarter of 2018 proved to be an active one with a number of US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations resulting in criminal charges against individual executives. However, the DOJ’s total criminal fines still fall below the highs reached in 2014 and 2015. In this period, the European Commission made one notable cartel decision, imposing fines on eight Japanese manufacturers of capacitors.

McDermott’s Cartel Snapshot presents the latest information about active antitrust investigations to inform defense representatives, in-house counsel and agency regulators of the latest compliance risks and private actions. Our highly rated team of competition lawyers has selected the most relevant US and EU cartel matters to support risk management assessments for international cartel defense and to provide insights for legal and business planning.

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WHAT HAPPENED

  • On February 14, 2017, Integra agreed to purchase Johnson & Johnson’s Codman neurosurgery business (excluding Codman’s neurovascular and drug deliver businesses) for $1.045 billion.
  • Seven months later, on September 25, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agreed to clear the transaction subject to the parties divesting five neurosurgical tools and associated assets including the relevant intellectual property (IP), manufacturing technology and know-how, and research & development (R&D) information related to the five tools. Additionally the buyer of the divested assets can freely negotiate to hire any employees that worked on sales, marketing, manufacturing, or R&D for the divestiture products. The parties must also supply Natus Medical Incorporated (Natus) with cranial access kits often sold with the divestiture assets until Natus can start sourcing them independently.
  • The FTC required that the parties divest the following medical devices:
    • Intracranial pressure monitoring systems, which measure pressure inside the skull. The FTC determined that Integra (68 percent) and Codman (26 percent) combined market share in the United States would be 94 percent and that only fringe competitors with limited presence would have remained.
    • Cerebrospinal fluid collections systems, which drain excess cerebrospinal fluid and monitor pressures within the fluid. The FTC found that Integra (57 percent) and Codman (14 percent) would combine for 71 percent market share in the United States and would have reduced the number of significant competitors from three to two.
    • Non-antimicrobial external ventricular drainage catheters, which funnel excess cerebrospinal fluid form the brain to cerebrospinal fluid collection systems to relieve intracranial pressure. Here, the FTC said Integra (29 percent) and Codman (17 percent) are the number two and three competitors accounting for 46 percent of the market in the United States and would have reduced the number of significant competitors from three to two.
    • Fixed pressure valve shunts, which are used to treat excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid. The FTC found that Integra (23 percent) and Codman (15 percent) were the number two and three competitors would control 38 percent of the US market and, again, that the number of competitors would have been reduced from three to two.
    • Dural grafts, which are used to repair or replace the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and keep cerebrospinal fluid in place. The FTC determined that the merger would have reduced the number of significant competitors from four to three with Integra (66 percent) and Codman (nine percent) combining for 75 percent market share.
  • Under the terms of the settlement, the parties must divest within 10 days of closing to Natus, which is a global health care company with an existing neurology business including systems that are complementary to the divestiture assets.

Continue Reading THE LATEST: Integra Forced to Divest Neurosurgical Tools to Gain FTC Clearance

On September 14, 2017, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), introduced new legislation to curtail market concentration and enhance antitrust scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions. As the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Klobuchar is the leading Senate Democrat for antitrust issues.

Two bills were submitted to the Senate: the Consolidation Prevention and Competition Promotion Act (CPCPA) and the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act (MEIA). The CPCPA is co-sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA). The MEIA is co-sponsored by Senators Blumenthal, Markey and Gillibrand, along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Both bills propose amendments to the Clayton Act. Earlier this year, Senate democrats announced these legislative proposals as part of their “A Better Deal” antitrust agenda.

WHAT DO THE BILLS PROPOSE:

  • Notably, the CPCPA proposes to revise the Clayton Act so that in challenging an acquisition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) would only have to show that the proposed transaction materially lessens competition rather than significantly lessens competition, which is the current standard. The legislation defines “materially lessens competition” to mean “more than a de minimis amount.” This change would reduce the burden of proof for the government in challenging an acquisition.

Continue Reading Senate Democrats Push for Tougher Merger Enforcement

On 10 March 2017, France finally implemented into French law the EU Directive 2014/104 of 26 November 2014 on antitrust damages actions. The implementation provisions faithfully transpose the Directive, but some concepts still, however, need to be clarified by courts at the EU and French levels.

Read the full article.

The case follows on from the Commission’s Animal Feed Phosphates cartel decision pursuant to which fines totalling €176 million were imposed on a number of producers of animal feed for price fixing and market sharing throughout the EEA.

During the investigation into the infringement, all the companies involved engaged in settlement discussions with the Commission with a view to obtaining a 10 percent reduction in the fine that would otherwise have been imposed had they not settled with the Commission. However, during the settlement process Timab, a subsidiary of the Roullier Group, decided to withdraw from the settlement procedure. The Commission therefore followed the standard administrative infringement procedure against Timab – despite the fact that it had entered into settlements with the other companies involved in the cartel. This was the first time, therefore, that the Commission rendered a decision in a so-called ‘hybrid’ case i.e. where some parties settle but others do not.

During the initial settlement discussions, several meetings were held between the Commission and Timab, during which evidence of the infringement was discussed. On the basis of the evidence available, the Commission informed Timab that a fine in the range of €41 to €44 million would be imposed on it. However, in its final decision of 20 July 2010, the Commission levied a fine of nearly €60 million on Timab.

Timab challenged the Commission’s decision before the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) in case T-456/10, claiming that the Commission had infringed its legitimate expectations regarding the amount of the fine, on the one hand, and its right not to incriminate itself, on the other. Such challenge was unsuccessful, however.

Continue Reading The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Confirms the Commission’s Approach to Hybrid Settlements

For the first time ever, on 8 November 2016 the French Competition Authority (FCA) sanctioned companies for implementing a transaction that had been notified to the FCA but not yet received a clearance decision, behaviour commonly known as “gun-jumping”. Continue Reading French Competition Authority Imposes Its First Ever Fine for Gun-Jumping

On 8 September 2016, the General Court of the EU (GCEU) handed down five judgments upholding a decision by the Commission of 19 June 2013 imposing fines on Lundbeck, an originator company, and Merck (the parent company of Generics), Arrow, Alpharma and Ranbaxy, four generic companies. The Commission found that the companies had entered into anticompetitive “pay-for-delay” settlement agreements whereby Lundbeck paid a lump sum to the generic companies in exchange for their agreement to delay their entry on the market for Citalopram, an anti-depressant drug.

This ruling is notable in that it is the first time that the GCEU has been asked to rule on patent settlements between originators and generic companies. The GCEU upheld the Commission’s reasoning, noting that the Commission’s reasoning in this case reflects the provisions of its Guidelines on the application of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) to technology transfer agreements.

Continue Reading General Court of the EU Confirms Fines Imposed on Lundbeck and Generic Drug Manufacturers for Entering into Patent Settlements