The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently ruled that a jurisdiction clause does not need to refer expressly to disputes arising from a breach of competition law where damages are claimed based on Art. 102 TFEU (i.e., for abuse of a dominant position). This contrasts with the ECJ’s position in follow-on cartel damages claims (under Art. 101 TFEU), where a jurisdiction clause must specifically refer to disputes concerning an infringement of competition law.

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As reported previously, German competition law was recently amended. The amendments included with the introduction of a “size of transaction”-threshold a notable change with respect to German merger control. The following is a reminder of five important features of German merger control which you should be aware of:

The jurisdictional thresholds of German merger control are easily triggered

German merger control applies if the parties to a transaction (usually the acquirer and the target) exceeded, in the last financial year, certain turnover thresholds. In an interna­tional context, these thresholds are relatively low and easily triggered:

  • Joint worldwide turnover of all parties > € 500 million, and
  • German turnover of at least one party > € 25 million, and
  • German turnover of another party > € 5 million.

There is a new “size of transaction”-threshold

Since June 2017, German merger control can also be triggered if a newly introduced “size of transaction”-threshold is exceeded:

  • Joint worldwide turnover of all parties > € 500 million, and
  • German turnover of at least one party > € 25 million, and
  • “value of compensation” > € 400 million, and
  • The target company has “significant business activities” in Germany (which may be activities with revenues < € 5 million).

The “value of compensation” includes the purchase price and all other assets and non-cash benefits, as well as liabilities assumed by the purchaser.

Acquisition of minority shareholdings may be notifiable

Similar to the HSR Act, but different to European Union merger control and most European jurisdictions, German merger control is not limited to the “acquisition of control”. Additional triggering events are

  • The acquisition of 25% or more of the shares in a company, and
  • The acquisition of a shareholding below 25% if this, combined with other factors (e.g. the right to appoint one out of five members of the board), may have an im­pact on competition (“acquisition of ability to exercise competitively significant influ­ence”).

Review of joint venture situations

German merger control may apply in joint venture situations that are often not covered by other merger control laws:

  •  German merger control may apply to the setting up of a joint venture company, even if the joint venture will have no activities in Germany. The jurisdictional thresholds may be satisfied by the parent companies alone. While there is an exemption for transactions with “no effect in Germany”, it is interpreted very narrowly and applies only in exceptional circumstances.
  • German merger control applies to all joint venture situations where two or more par­ties acquire or continue to hold a shareholding of 25% or more. Examples:
    – A and B set up a 50/50 production joint venture.
    – A acquires sole control and a 70% shareholding, and B acquires a non-control­ling 30% shareholding.
    – A sells 75% of a fully owned subsidiary to B, and retains only a 25% minority shareholding.
    – A, B and C each own 1/3 in a joint venture company. C divests his share­holding to A and B.

In each of these examples, the turnover of both A and B (and possibly the tar­get/joint venture company) will have to be taken into account for assessing the juris­dictional thresholds.

The bright side: The process is usually quick, efficient and relatively inexpensive

The number of transactions requiring a merger control notification to the German Federal Cartel Office (“FCO”) is, compared to most other jurisdictions, relatively high. On the plus side, the notification process is, in most cases, quick, efficient and, in cases without true com­petition issues, relatively inexpensive.

  • The large majority of transactions notified to the FCO are cleared in Phase 1.
  • The maximum duration of Phase 1 is one month; fairly often, the FCO clears trans­actions within two or three weeks after notification.
  • In straightforward cases, the amount of formal information that needs to be pro­vided is limited, and the notification can be drafted relatively quickly.
  • The fee imposed by the FCO in non-complex matters usually ranges between € 5,000 and € 15,000.

On 14 January 2017, the Italian Council of Ministers approved the Legislative Decree implementing Directive 2014/104/EU on certain rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of the competition law provisions of the Member States and of the European Union (the “Directive”). The final version of the Legislative Decree has not been published yet on the Official Journal. However, the key points emerging from it include:

  1. A strengthened mechanism of evidence disclosure in actions for damages related to alleged infringements of competition rules. In fact, the judge will have the power to request the defendant or a third party, including the Italian Competition Authority (the “Authority”), to disclose relevant evidence which lies in their control.
  2. The extent to which Italian courts will be able to rely on decisions of the Italian Competition Authority or other national competition authorities. For instance, an infringement of competition law ascertained by a decision of the Italian Competition Authority (or appeal judgment), which is not subject to further means of appeal, will be deemed to be indisputably established for the purposes of an action for damages brought before the national courts under Article 101 or 102 TFEU or under national competition law.
  3. The rules applicable to limitation periods for bringing actions for damages, as well as how Italian courts shall assess the joint and several liabilities of companies which are found to have infringed competition rules, and how they shall quantify the harm suffered as a consequence of the alleged infringements.
  4. The business sections of the courts of Milan, Rome and Naples, identified as the only competent courts for such actions for damages, including class actions.

According to the established Italian case-law, in case of actions for damages regarding alleged violations of competition rules, the judge shall use all available investigation means in order to address the obstacles faced by the claimant to access the relevant evidence in antitrust cases, and therefore apply broadly the rules on the disclosure of evidence and information requests (Corte Suprema di Cassazione, judgment no. 11564 of 4 June 2015).

On 26 November 2014, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the Directive, which entered into force 26 December 2014, setting 27 December 2016, as the deadline for its transposition at national level. On 27 October 2016, the Italian Council of Ministers approved an initial proposal for a Legislative Decree implementing the Directive and sent it to the relevant commissions of the Italian Parliament for their mandatory (non-binding) opinions. The Legislative Decree was therefore finally approved in the Council of Ministers’ meeting of 14 January 2017. Although it is difficult to predict the likely impact of the Legislative Decree, it will definitely provide a more certain legislative framework for companies and consumers interested in claiming damages on the basis of alleged antitrust infringements.

Gabriele Giunta contributed to this post. 

On 9 June 2016, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued a statement of objections (SO) to Ping Europe Limited (Ping), a golf equipment manufacturer, alleging that Ping had breached EU and UK competition law by banning the sale of its golf clubs online.

Continue Reading Online Sales Restrictions Remain a Hot Topic: UK CMA Issues Statement of Objections

On 18 March, the European Commission (Commission) published its initial findings on geo-blocking in the framework of its ongoing antitrust sector inquiry into e-commerce.

The findings are based on responses to questionnaires sent to more than 1400 retailers and digital content providers from all 28 EU Member States in 2015.

The questionnaires focused on geo-blocking practices in the sales of goods (clothing, shoes and accessories, consumer electronics, household appliances, computer games and software, toys and childcare articles, books, media carriers, cosmetic and healthcare products, sports, outdoor, house and garden equipment), and in the provision of digital content services (films, sports, TV programmes, music).

The findings suggest that geo-blocking is a widespread practice. Where the sale of tangible goods is concerned, in most cases the decision to have geo-blocking in place is made unilaterally by the retailer.  In only 12 percent of the cases, retailers were forced by contract to put restrictions in place on cross-border sales.

On the other hand, geo-blocking in digital content is for the most part a contractual requirement imposed by suppliers (for 59 percent of the respondents).

The data on geo-blocking now published by the Commission seem to strengthen the Commission’s suspicions that geo-blocking practices are widespread and may significantly impact intra-EU cross-border trade. The Commission said that geo-blocking may be in breach of competition law, particularly when it results from agreements between businesses or if practised by a dominant market player.

However, the Commission also recognized that retailers and service providers may have valid reasons to put geo-blocking in place to restrict cross-border sales. In light of this, the Commission may decide to address the conditions under which geo-blocking is justified in further legislation or guidance to businesses first, rather than take  immediate enforcement measures on the back of the sector inquiry.

Any ensuing enforcement action would have to take place on a case-by-case basis, separately from the overall sector inquiry.

It is expected that the Commission will present its final report on the present inquiry by the middle of 2016.

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.

Aerospace and defense contractors engage in a wide range of mergers, acquisitions and joint venture transactions, which are often subject to heightened antitrust scrutiny. This article highlights some of the leading antitrust factors that contractors should consider when contemplating M&A transactions in their unique industry.

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McDermott has contributed to the Italian chapter of the 2014 edition of “Pharmaceutical Antitrust” published by Getting the Deal Through, a valuable work tool for legal practitioners dealing with antitrust rules in the pharmaceutical sector.  The chapter addresses the most significant regulatory and antitrust issues affecting the marketing, authorization and pricing of pharmaceutical products in Italy.

Click here to read the full chapter.

by Martina Maier, Philipp Werner and Robert Bäuerle

On 18 October, the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) adopted several changes to German competition law.  The new legislation still has to be passed by the second chamber of the German parliament (Bundesrat) but the changes are expected to come into force on 1 January 2013.  Overall, the changes are less far-reaching than many of the proposals discussed during the preparatory phase of the reform.  The changes, however, are significant and will have to be taken into account by companies doing business in Germany. The article summarizes the main points of the reform.

To read the full article, click here.