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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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.

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Rolls-Royce and SENER have a 47 percent/53 percent joint-venture in Industrial de Turbo Propulsores (ITP)–an aircraft engine components manufacturer.
  • Rolls-Royce, together with ITP, MTU and Safran, are members of a military engine consortium–Europrop International (EPI)–that supplies the engine to the Airbus’ A400M, the primary competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J.
  • The European Commission (EC) had concerns that Rolls-Royce’s full ownership of ITP would increase its influence in EPI such that Rolls-Royce could undercut the competitiveness of the EPI engine, and consequently subvert Airbus’ competitiveness vis-à-vis Lockheed Martin.
  • The EC and Rolls-Royce agreed to a behavioral remedy focused on EPI’s governance rules that would eliminate the potential conflict of interest and maintain EPI’s competitiveness. While the EC press release does not provide details, the agreement likely allows MTU and Safran to control the consortium’s decision making.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • Antitrust enforcers continue to investigate competitive impacts from vertical transactions.
  • While antitrust enforcers have a strong preference for structural remedies, when addressing vertical competition issues, there is greater potential that enforcers will accept a behavioral fix.
  • Antitrust enforcers continue to focus on antitrust impacts in narrow markets. Here, the remedy is designed to maintain competition between the Airbus A400M and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J – military turboprop transport aircraft.

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.

 

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.

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In the European Union (EU), at the inception of a joint venture (JV), parent companies must determine whether the newly created structure presents a full-functionality nature, which depends on its degree of autonomy. The answer to this question will determine the legal framework applicable to it.

On the one hand, if the JV is full-function it will fall within the scope of the EU Merger Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004), assuming that the turnover thresholds set out in the Regulation are met. Under these circumstances, the European Commission (EC) will assess the impact of the JV on competition on an ex ante basis.

On the other hand, if the JV is not full-function and takes the form of a partnership formalized by a legal structure to a large extent dependent on its parent companies, the creation of a JV will not have to be notified but the EC may operate a control ex post, in the light of Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU which prohibits anticompetitive agreements between undertakings. In such a context, it is up to the parent companies creating a JV to determine whether their JV is compatible with competition law rules.

The ex post control has the advantage of avoiding the notification process that delays the implementation of the JV. However, within that framework, companies may not obtain a clearance decision and the fate of their JV is subject to legal uncertainty. It is thus generally preferable for companies to make sure that their JV will fall within the scope of the Merger Regulation because a clearance decision is irrevocable and unlimited.

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By two judgments of January 19, 2015 (Case T-404/12 Toshiba v. Commission and Case T-409/12 Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission), the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) upheld the fines of €131 million imposed by the European Commission (EC) on Toshiba and Mitsubishi for their participation in a cartel on the market for gas insulated switchgear (GIS), dismissing a line of reasoning essentially based on the principle of equal treatment.

The cartel, involving 20 European and Japanese undertakings, consisted in an agreement between competitors with the objective of coordinating the commercial activity worldwide of the members. The cartel members developed a quota system aimed at determining the market shares to allocate between them. In parallel, the cartelists reached an unwritten understanding, according to which GIS projects in the European market and Japanese market were reserved to European members and Japanese members of the cartel, respectively.

In its 2007 decision, the EC found a single and continuous infringement of competition law on the GIS product market between 1988 and 2004 and imposed fines on Toshiba and Mitsubishi, inter alios, of €86.25 million and €113.92 million, respectively. It also found the two Japanese undertakings jointly and severally liable for up to €4.65 million. Both companies challenged the EC decision, which led to two judgments of the GCEU (Case T-113/07 Toshiba v. Commission and Case T-133/07 Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission), subsequently upheld by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (Case C-498/11 P Toshiba v. Commission and Case C-489/11 P Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission). The GCEU annulled the fines imposed on the two Japanese undertakings, finding that the Commission had infringed the principle of equal treatment in calculating their fines. The reference year used to calculate the fines for the applicants was indeed different from that chosen for the European participants in the infringement.

Having been asked to reexamine its decision, the EC recalculated the fines imposed on Toshiba and Mitsubishi and fixed them at €56.79 million and €74.82 million, respectively, without changing the amount of the fine for which they were held jointly and severally liable. The two Japanese undertakings then lodged a new appeal before the GCEU seeking the annulment of the revised fines. In support of their action, the applicants alleged, inter alia, an infringement of the principle of equal treatment as regards the determination of their level of culpability as compared to the European participants in the infringement and the starting amount of the fine.

First, Toshiba and Mitsubishi argued that they were less culpable than their European counterparts because their participation had been limited to agreeing not to enter the European Economic Area (EEA) market, whereas the European undertakings had distributed the GIS projects on that same market through active collusion. In other words, they contended that their participation only consisted in a failure to act and that, consequently, they could not be held as liable as the European undertakings for the implementation of the cartel.

The GCEU reiterated its settled case-law, according to which the fact that an undertaking did not take part in all aspects of an anticompetitive scheme or that it played a minor role in the aspects in which it did participate must be taken into consideration when the gravity of the infringement is assessed and when the fine is determined. Nevertheless, the GCEU relied on the fact that the decision of the Japanese undertakings not to enter the European market, without which the allocation of market shares in the EEA would not have been possible, was a prerequisite for the implementation of the infringement as a whole. In that context, the applicants could not have ignored the unlawful nature of their conduct within the bigger picture of the framework in which such conduct took place. The GCEU concluded that the two different types of infringement – concrete action vs. agreement not to enter a market – are comparable, so it is therefore consistent for the applicants to receive the same treatment as the European undertakings.

Second, the applicants claimed an infringement of the principle of equal treatment as regards the starting amount of the fines. The fines of their European counterparts had been calculated on the basis of their respective GIS sales in 2003. Following the annulment of the first fines imposed on Toshiba and Mitsubishi, the Commission was under the obligation to determine the applicants’ new fines on the basis of sales achieved in 2003 (as held by the GCEU and confirmed by the CJEU). However, the applicants had not themselves achieved any GIS sales that year since in 2002 they had transferred their operations in that sector to a joint venture (JV) jointly owned by them. In consequence, the GCEU ruled that they were not placed in a comparable situation as the European GIS producers and the Commission was entitled to treat them differently.

In this context, the Commission chose (i) to determine a starting amount of the fine for the JV (using its GIS sales in 2003) and then (ii) to divide it between its shareholders – Toshiba and Mitsubishi – on the basis of their respective GIS sales in 2001; i.e., the last year where they had each achieved sales on that market. The applicants argued against this method by contending that the starting amount of their fines should have been determined individually after having divided the JV’s worldwide GIS sales between them in consideration of their respective shares in the JV’s turnover in 2013.

The GCEU ruled that the Commission had a certain margin of discretion when calculating the applicants’ fines and approved of the method applied in the case at hand. Therefore, the Commission did not breach the principle of equal treatment. In this case, the GCEU adopted a pragmatic and functional approach to cope with the technical pitfall.

by Martina Maier, Philipp Werner and David Henry

In a landmark ruling, the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Kone and Others C-557/12 of 5 June 2014, has held that, where a cartel causes competing companies to increase their prices, the members of the cartel may be held liable for losses incurred by victims of those price increases.

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On 21 March 2014, the European Commission (Commission) adopted a revised set of rules for the assessment of technology transfer agreements by the Commission and national competition authorities. The new Technology Transfer Block Exemption Regulation and accompanying Technology Transfer Guidelines will enter into force on 1 May 2014. The revised regime provides clearer and, arguably much needed, guidance on licensing agreements. This enhanced clarity should make it easier for businesses to assess whether or not their licensing and other collaborative practices aimed at the transfer of technology are in compliance with EU competition law.

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