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New German Antitrust Rules: A Positive Move for Compliance Programs

What has changed?

  • On January 19, 2021, new German antitrust rules entered into force under the 10th amendment Act to the Act against Restraints of Competition (ARC) and introduced a number of significant changes.
  • The Act, inter alia, revised the provisions relating to fine calculation for antitrust violations, and in doing so underlined the importance of compliance programs. For further changes, please refer to our previous blogpost.
  • Specifically, an objectively effective compliance program can now lead to a reduced fine being calculated if the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) concludes that certain conduct is in violation of antitrust rules, but the company had implemented appropriate compliance measures before the violation.

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Federal Trade Commission Zeroes in on Problematic Non-Competes

Non-compete provisions help protect a buyer’s significant investment in an acquired business. Although non-compete clauses often play a vital role in M&A deals, they are not immune from antitrust scrutiny.

Since September 2019, the FTC has challenged noncompete provisions in at least three transactions. These demonstrate that the Commission and other antitrust enforcers are closely scrutinising non-competes and will not hesitate to challenge problematic provisions, even when the underlying transaction raises no substantive antitrust issues or when the provision relates to minority investments.

Parties to a commercial transaction can easily manage this scrutiny by tailoring the scope.

Click here to read the full article in our latest International News.




Antitrust Enforcement Update: Spotlight on Physician Transactions

At both the state and federal level, antitrust enforcement agencies continue to pursue successful challenges to physician practice transactions. This article summarizes two recent enforcement actions, as well as a new state law that requires prior notice of healthcare provider transactions. We also offer practical takeaways for providers pursuing practice acquisitions.

Access the full article.




THE LATEST: Antitrust Remains in Political Crosshairs for 2018 Midterm Elections

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gave a speech at the Open Markets Institute on December 6 entitled “Three Ways to Remake the American Economy for All”, in which she repeatedly positioned antitrust policy as a tool to rebalance competition between “big, powerful corporations” and “just about everyone else.”
  • Senator Warren spoke critically about recent antitrust enforcement and advocated three steps for improving antitrust enforcement: (1) block mergers that choke-off competition; (2) crack down on anticompetitive conduct; and (3) get all government agencies to defend competition.
  • On mergers, Senator Warren asserted that “settlement agreements that allowed bad mergers if the companies promised to take actions” have not worked out because “those expertly crafted provisions have been epic failures” and that “[s]tudies show that those settlement conditions often fail to bring about the cost savings and other benefits giant corporations promised.”
  • She advocated that to improve antitrust enforcement “we need to demand a new breed of antitrust enforcers … Enforcers who will turn down papier-mache settlement agreements and actually take cases to court.”
  • Senator Warren stated that increased enforcement is needed not just for horizontal mergers between direct competitors, but also for vertical mergers (e.g., between customers/suppliers). In her view, the “Chicago School party line” that vertical mergers do not harm competition may be accepted theory, but is “not often the reality” when large companies are involved.
  • On anticompetitive conduct, Senator Warren singled out no-poach agreements as an area for increased enforcement—specifically franchises that do not allow an employee of one franchisee to be hired by another franchisee.
  • On getting other agencies to defend competition, Senator Warren noted that while not enforcers like DOJ, other government agencies like the Defense Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Communications Commission, can significantly impact competition through regulation and purchasing.
  • Finally, Senator Warren highlighted several consolidated industries that she views as significantly concentrated for which she would like to see increased antitrust focus including: airlines, banking, healthcare, pharma, agriculture, telecom and tech.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
  • Senator Warren’s theme that antitrust can be used to protect small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, workers and just about everyone else from the “rich and powerful” shows that increasing antitrust enforcement has become a key party line for the upcoming midterm elections.
  • Additionally, Senator Warren stated that “[t]he individuals who lead the [FTC and DOJ] determine the federal government’s competition priorities,” and have a significant impact on antitrust enforcement by deciding which cases to open or take to court. Given these statements and that several high-profile mergers will be decided before the midterms, we expect that Senator Warren will continue to highlight the potential impact of high-profile mergers on small business and individuals.



THE LATEST: DOJ Antitrust Chief Casts Doubt on Using “Behavioral Remedies” to Fix Problematic “Vertical” Mergers

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • On Thursday, November 16, 2017, newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim, speaking at the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law’s Fall Forum, explained where antitrust enforcement fits in the broader Trump administration effort to reduce federal regulations.
  • Delrahim remarked that “antitrust is law enforcement, it’s not regulation.” Antitrust enforcement “supports reducing regulation, by encouraging competitive markets that, as a result, require less government intervention.” Delrahim explained that “[v]igorous antitrust enforcement plays an important role in building a less regulated economy in which innovation and business can thrive, and ultimately the American consumer can benefit.” As a result, the government can minimize regulation related to price, quality, and investment.
  • Delrahim announced that the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) would seek to reduce the number of long-term consent decrees and “return to the preferred focus on structural relief to remedy mergers that violate the law,” thereby limiting the use of behavioral remedies in consent decrees particularly in vertical transactions, where such remedies have historically been common. According to Delrahim, “a behavioral remedy supplants competition with regulation; it replaces disaggregated decision making with central planning.” Delrahim also expressed concern that behavioral remedies simply delay the exercise of otherwise anticompetitive market power.
  • Mentioning by name several consent decrees in vertical transactions containing behavioral provisions in merger cases brought by the Obama administration, Delrahim expressed concern that these remedies “entangle the [Antitrust] Division and the courts in the operation of a market on an on-going basis.” Delrahim cautioned that the lack of enforceability and reliability of behavioral remedies diminish the effectiveness of antitrust enforcement, a risk that consumers should not have to bear.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
  • Delrahim’s stance on behavioral remedies starkly contrasts with previous DOJ policies, followed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Prior administrations strongly preferred structural remedies, but recognized that behavioral remedies could be appropriate particularly for vertical transactions that presented pro-competitive benefits. The DOJ’s most recent policy paper on remedies (issued by the Obama administration) exemplifies this view, stating: “conduct remedies often can effectively address anticompetitive issues raised by vertical mergers.”
  • Despite the new administration’s disfavored view of behavioral remedies for a vertical merger, such remedies are not off the table. To secure a DOJ consent decree with behavioral remedies for a vertical merger, parties will likely have to show that the transaction “generates significant efficiencies that cannot be achieved without the merger or through a structural remedy.” Delrahim unambiguously stated that this is “a high standard to meet.”
  • Delrahim’s speech appeared aimed at several high profile vertical transactions that are currently under review by the DOJ, likely seeking to explain why the DOJ will insist on structural remedies in transactions where most outside observers thought a behavioral remedy may suffice.
  • It is possible that Joe Simons, President Trump’s unconfirmed appointee for Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, may take a differing stance on behavioral remedies, following prior policy statements. This could result in a slight [...]

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Antitrust M&A Snapshot: April – June 2017 Update

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.




Antitrust M&A Snapshot: October – December 2016 Update

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.

 




Antitrust M&A Snapshot: July – September 2016 Update

UNITED STATES:

Continuing an active first half of 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice (DOJ) have challenged several large mergers and acquisitions. In fact, trials for the two national health insurer deals are slated to begin Q4 of 2016 in Washington, DC, where the agencies have had success in obtaining preliminary injunctions this year. Adding to the regulators’ successes in Q3 was a victory for the FTC on appeal in the Penn State Hershey Medical Center/PinnacleHealth System transaction, in which the Third Circuit overturned the district court’s formulation of the geographic market. Indeed, with another appeal in a hospital merger outstanding in the Seventh Circuit, Health Care M&A is an active sector to monitor.

In addition to the agencies’ operations, the upcoming US presidential election has also propelled antitrust policy into a national discussion. For the first time in a few decades, antitrust has appeared on the Democratic Party’s platform, and Hillary Clinton has also issued a statement promising to strengthen antitrust enforcement if elected president.

EUROPEAN UNION:

The July to September period has seen 87 merger control notifications, the vast majority being candidate cases for simplified procedure. There were also eight clearance decisions, five of which were Phase I cases with remedies—in each case, structural remedies were preferred by the European Commission (EC).

Antitrust intervention seems to have been focused more on the telecoms and pharmaceutical sectors, with divestitures being offered in every telecom and pharma Phase I and Phase II clearance decision since July.

Read the full article here.




Top Antitrust Enforcers Respond to Congressional Questioning

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Assistant Attorney General William Baer testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on May 15, 2015. The oversight hearing provided an opportunity for the heads of the U.S. antitrust enforcement agencies to survey their agencies’ priorities and recent achievements. The two agency heads also faced congressional questions on a variety of topics ranging from proposed reforms to the FTC’s merger review process to the alleged unfair targeting of foreign firms by Chinese antitrust authorities.

In her prepared testimony, Chairwoman Ramirez reviewed her agency’s recent activity, emphasizing especially recent U.S. Supreme Court and appellate court victories. She reiterated the agency’s strategic focus on core areas of concern, including health care, where the agency continues to review health care provider and pharmaceutical industry mergers carefully. Ramirez also stressed the agency’s continued attention to combating efforts to stifle generic drug competition. Other key focus areas include consumer products and services, technology and energy markets.

For the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Baer’s prepared remarks focused on the division’s criminal cartel enforcement activity, including the expansive London Interbank Offered Rates  and auto parts investigations. Baer also highlighted the Division’s civil enforcement activity, noting for example that three major mergers had recently been abandoned in the face of concerns raised by the division.

Chairwoman Ramirez faced questioning from the subcommittee about its merger review process. Asked about a recent rule change, Ramirez downplayed the significance of the change and stated that it was meant merely to clarify the agency’s position in situations where a court has refused to issue a preliminary injunction. She stated that the new rule was not a departure from past practice and that the Commission always assessed each case to determine whether to continue with an administrative hearing in the wake of the denial of an injunction.

Ramirez also faced questioning about the proposed SMARTER Act. The proposed legislation, which passed out of committee in the House last fall, would require the DOJ and FTC to satisfy the same standards to obtain preliminary injunctions against mergers. Currently, for the DOJ to obtain an injunction, it must show that the transaction would cause irreparable harm if allowed to go forward. The FTC faces a different test, and must only show that the injunction is in the public interest. Under the proposed legislation, both agencies would be held to the irreparable harm standard. In addition, the legislation would prevent the FTC from using its administrative court for mergers where an injunction has been denied.  Chairwoman Ramirez contended that the proposed Act “undermines one of the central strengths of the Federal Trade Commission and one of the reasons the FTC was created in the first instance, which was to have an expert body of bipartisan commissioners rule on and develop antitrust doctrine.” She pointed also to the agency’s record of appellate success to stress her view that the [...]

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Antitrust Enforcers Discuss Recent Highlights, Ongoing Cases, Enforcement Priorities and General Trends at the 2015 ABA Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting

The American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting concluded earlier this month with the traditional “Enforcers’ Roundtable,” an interview with leading competition authorities about recent highlights, ongoing cases, enforcement priorities and general trends.

This year’s participants were Bill Baer, U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust; Edith Ramirez, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman; Kathleen Foote, Chair of the Multistate Antitrust Task Force of the National Association of Attorneys General; Margrethe Vestager, E.U. Commissioner for Competition; and Lord David Currie, Chairman of the one-year old UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Below is a summary of certain highlights from the discussion.

Recent Domestic Achievements and Enforcement Priorities

Ramirez touted the FTC’s recent U.S. Supreme Court victory in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners[1], in which the court held that a state licensing board was not entitled to state action immunity because active market participants controlled the board, and the board was not subject to active supervision by the state. Foote noted that states are currently taking steps to ensure compliance with this ruling.

Ramirez also highlighted the FTC’s current efforts to challenge the merger between the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco and US Foods. Foote noted that the Sysco/US Foods[2] case is a multistate effort, with 11 state attorneys general collaborating with the FTC.

Enforcement in the pharmaceutical industry, especially pertaining to reverse payment settlements, is a priority, panelists stated. Ramirez discussed the FTC’s ongoing litigation in three reverse payment settlement cases. She noted that in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Actavis[3], the FTC posits that non-monetary payments, such as supply agreements, could constitute reverse payments and thus be subject to antitrust scrutiny.

Foote remarked that reverse payment settlements are also a major state focus, pointing to the recent settlement between the New York Attorney General and two generic pharmaceutical companies, Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.

Global Cartel Enforcement: a Record-Breaking Year

Baer and Vestager highlighted the increasing number and severity of fines imposed on companies engaged in price-fixing, as well as prison sentences imposed on executives in the U.S. In recent years, enforcers have scrutinized conduct in a range of industries, including financial services, agriculture, ocean shipping, consumer goods and the auto parts industry.

Baer indicated that cartel enforcement accounts for more than 40 percent of the Antitrust Division’s work. Vestager noted that the European Commission (EC) rendered 10 decisions related to cartel activity in 2014, including eight settlements. She noted that settlements are part of the EC’s “toolbox,” but the EC would continue rendering infringement decisions to develop case law.

In contrast to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the EC, Currie said that the CMA’s 2014 cartel record was not as strong as he would have liked and that the CMA received a recent budget increase in part to enhance enforcement efforts.

International Enforcement Cooperation

Each of the panelists praised the quality of international cooperation among antitrust agencies. Vestager said that 60 [...]

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