Chillin'Competition

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Archive for the ‘Journals’ Category

Recent output

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In the course of his time off blogging, Nicolas has remained pretty productive on the academic front. Here are the abstracts and links to some of his latest work:

1. A sequel to the World Cup, with a short paper on the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulation. In brief, he expressess doubts that the FFPR recently introduced by UEFA will promote competition in the football industry. According to Nico’s view, the FFPR is likely to create an ‘oligopoleague’ of football clubs that will freeze the market structure, to the detriment of the smallest clubs. The conclusion is that the FFPR may well constitute an unlawful agreement under Article 101 TFEU. The paper can be downloaded here.

2. A paper arguing that the TeliaSonera judgment on price squeezes has been in part repealled by subsequent case-law. The paper resorts to a short numerical example to show the flaw of finding a price squeeze in the presence of positive margins. The final version of this paper was published in the “Revue du Droit des Industries de Réseaux“, a new journal on the regulation network industries. See here: Price Squeezes with Positive Margins – Economic and Legal Anatomy of a Zombie (Final)

3. A presentation on the General Court’s Judgment in Intel, where he argueS that the Guidance Paper is not yet dead. In his view, the impact of Intel is confined to leveraging rebates – ie retroactive rebates – which are subject to a quasi per se illegality standard. As for the other rebates – eg incremental rebates – they remain subject to a rule of reason standard, though the assessment method need not be quantitative. The General Court also has generalized the Article 102(3) defense in abuse of dominance cases, though it is complex to see if this will be practical. The paper concludes with an optimistic note on the future of the Guidance Paper, and discusses the more philosophical point of whether Article 102 should seek to protect competitive OUTCOMEs or rather the PROCESS of competition. Nicolas submits that if 102 protects the PROCESS of competition, this should not dispense agencies and complainants to bring a certain degree of economic evidence in support of their allegations. See here: Intel v Commission – ABC Seminar – 10 07 14

4. A presentation on “Problem Practices”, ie practices that do not fall neatly within the conventional antitrust prohibitions: planned obsolescence strategies, most unfavored customer clauses, IP tracking- pricing, etc. He gave a speech on this at the CCP (University of East Anglia) Annual conference on Problem Markets arguing that existing EU rules can be flexibly stretched to capture such practices, and that we do not need a Section 5-type provision in our legal framework. In other words, he submits that there is no gap within the EU competition toolbox. See here: Problem Practices – CCP

5. A presentation on the principles of effectiveness and procedural autonomy in EU competition law given before an audience of judges at EUI as part of a seminar hosted by Giorgio Monti. See here: The Principles of Equivalence and Effectiveness -Petit

Nicolas is currently writing papers developing the content of presentations 3 and 4, so he’ll be grateful to anyone interested in sharing thoughts on those.

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Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

23 July 2014 at 12:32 pm

‘Stealth Licensing’ – Are Antitrust Law and Trade Regulation Squeezing Patent Rights ?

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Monsieur le Professeur Nicolas Petit has just published a piece titled “Stealth Licensing”- Or Antitrust Law and Trade Regulation Squeezing Patent Rights. In this paper he illustrates his points by resorting to metaphors on black swans and butterflys (read the last sentence in the 3rd paragraph below), which is a good indication that he may well have definetely lost it   ;)   

In Nico’s view (and from now I’m pasting the paper’s abstract): a “stealth licensing” paradigm is emerging across the globe. It can be seen through subtle interventions from policy makers, judicial organs and administrative agencies. Those interventions seek to facilitate compulsory licenses outside the TRIPS agreement exceptions and/or to water down those exceptions. Altogether, they ramp up pressure on patent owners to give away their freedom – it is actually a “right” – to exploit their innovations as they see fit. The paper submits that stealth licensing is a significant phenomenon that adversely impacts the social welfare functions of the patent system. It risks undermining investment in technology, technology creation and the dissemination functions of the patent system at a critical juncture in time, as new critical technologies like green technology, the internet of things, machine to machine technology, smart medical devices or biotechnologies are being called for, and rolled out, across the globe. Moreover, stealth licensing is occurring despite the fact that both private and public investment in R&D is critical to help developed economies back on the path to growth, competitiveness, employment and prosperity.

This paper the concept and policy of “stealth licensing”. To that end, it first surveys the literature on the social functions of the patent system, and in particular, on the role of patents to incentivise (risky) R&D efforts and to disseminate successful technological innovations (I). In this context, it recalls that whilst divided on the exact function of patent law, scholars broadly concur that patents have social utility. The paper then shows the emergence a “stealth licensing” paradigm adversary to the social functions of the patent system. To aid understanding, it starts with a definition of the concept of “stealth licensing” (II). It then describes its emergence in international trade regulation where a “flexible” interpretation of the TRIPS compulsory licensing exceptions is making way (III); and in antitrust law, where a distinct though equally problematic “undercover” licensing paradigm is gaining prominence (IV). Finally, it explains the perils of squeezing patent rights through stealth licensing with two metaphors: that of a black swan (V) and that of a butterfly (VI).

For a link to all of Nicolas’ previous articles available on SSRN, click here.
On a related note, I’m told that, in addition to other interesting articles, the April issue of European Competition Journal  features a couple of pieces that partly discuss Nicolas’ prior writins on Standard Essential Patents. I was also told that if I wrote this here he’d get a free copy of the issue…
And if you want to register to attend the conference on Conflicts of Interest, Ethical Rules and Impartiality in EU Competition Policy that Nico has put together and that will take place on Thursday  (you already know my views on this subject), you can do so here.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

22 April 2014 at 6:32 pm

State aid: you don’t know what you’re missing (+ thicko of the day award)

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Montebourg

Some of you might remember one of ours posts titled State aid conferences: that’s where the fun is! (Michael O’Leary and Kim Jong Il make for a great marketing combination and attracted quite a few readers) [Btw, today’s picture features another “peculiar” character; see below for an explanation].

In reality, and jokes aside, State aid is a field where much is currently happening, and that most antitrust lawyers often fail to follow and even perceive as distant.  Let me explain why that may not make much sense:

Off the top of my head, I would say that around 40% of DG Comp’s decisional output and resources are devoted to State aid. In economic terms, State aid issues generally have much greater repercussions than most antitrust cases (to put just one example, the guys at my office are advising Spain on how to use some tenths of billions granted by the European Council to restructure the financial sector). The substantive issues are no less interesting, complex, and challenging as the one’s posed by antitrust law.

On the other hand, to be sure, political interference is much more frequent, intense, and often less camouflaged (politicians, very particularly French and British ones, seem to be the ones realizing about the impact of these rules) than in antitrust. You might have read this morning about the French Industry Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, openly attacking both State aid rules in general and Vice-President Almunia in particular. In the Minister’s words, the Commission lives in a “legal delirium” and “makes up rules that don’t exist in the Treaties in order to perpetuate its powers”. He also referred to the Commissioner an “obsolete liberal integrist” and asserted that he has the backing of 11 Member States to “revise and liberalize State aid”. For once I will be the controversial one here instead of Nico, and I’ll refer to Monsieur Montebourg as the first recipient of the “Thicko of the day” award (pictured above proudly receiving his trophy)    :)

Despite all the above (the fun, the legal complexity and the political and economic importance), State aid is not paid the attention it deserves by practicing lawyers. Why? Easy:  because those most directly affected often seem to be public authorities (many companies haven’t yet understood the opportunities and the risks associated to these rules), and those don’t pay as high bills as private companies do. (I guess efficiency and profit-maximizing related incentives also give rise to market failures/externalities).

Whereas I agree with the idea that State aid DNA shares more chromosomes with internal market rules than with antitrust law, there are some common feature between the two disciplines. Aside from the fact that they were placed in the same chapter of the Treaty –which led to their enforcement being entrusted to the same body: DG Comp-, State aid law is also always constantly in the making and questioning itself, which is what initially seduced me from antitrust.

An example: on January 17th the European Commission launched a consultation paper on the very the notion of aid. Think about it; no one would dare of doing the same in antitrust, even if very few people (perhaps with the exception of the influential Giuliano Marenco) have a comprehensive theory to explain what a restriction of competition actually is (an idea I also stated here and here).

There’s loads of “low-hanging fruit” in this domain. If you’re interested in an overview of the legal issues involved in determining what an State aid really is, I very strongly encourage you to read Andrea Biondi’s recent piece: State aid is falling down, falling down: An analysis of the case law on the notion of aid (very recently published in Common Market Law Review).

In the past few weeks I’ve taken a few initiatives to compensate for our State aid deficit. On a personal level, I got heavily involved together with José Luis Buendía in drafting and lodging no less than 12 State aid appeals concerning a particularly controverted and interesting decision (little did I know that I’d have to do that in the course of the Christmas holidays; btw, the experience left me wondering how we could manage in the pre e-Curia days). On a blog-related level, we’ve just asked a couple of the best minds in the field to become regular contributors to Chillin’Competition. We hope to be able to announce their coming on board soon.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

23 January 2014 at 5:58 pm

Case C-58/12 P Groupe Gascogne v Commission + some other stuff

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jeclap

- Fresh off the Court. This morning the ECJ handed down a Judgment in which it has ruled that the Court itself is not supposed to reduce the fine imposed on a company whenever judicial review by the General Court exceeds a reasonable time. This Judgment effectively and explicitly overrules the Baustahlgewebe Judgment, in which the ECJ had followed the opposite (and in my view much more reasonable approach). Today’s Judgment is premised on the idea that an application for damages brought against the EU would in all circumstances constitute an effective remedy to compensate for any damages caused by the GC’s failure to adjudicate within a reasonable time.

For those of you with less background on general EU law, actions for damages against the EU shall be brought before the General Court. In other words, parties who believe that the duration of proceedings before the General Court was excessively lenghtly should, by means of a different application, ask the General Court itself to ascertain whether its own behavior was appropriate in the light of the circumstances specific to the case and whether the parties suffered any harm. Good luck with that…

- Save the date!  On February 7th and 8th AIJA [Association Internationale de Jeunes Avocats) (a generous institution according to which lawyers below 45 qualify as young] will be holding a two-day conference in Bruges under the title “Competition Law 2.0- Competition Law and Technology“. A not-to-be-missed excuse to spend part of the weekend in Bruges and pay a visit to the greatest beer bar ever discuss hot topics in current antitrust. Both Prof. Petit and myself will be speaking there.

- Speaking of current antitrust debates: the last number of the Journal of European Competition Law and Practice (a great journal that has rightly earned a prominent place in a saturated? market) features various very good articles, including one by our guest blogger Pablo Ibañez on State aid litigation.  At another level, it also features a brief piece of mine  [the hyperlink only leads to the abstract] about Google’s commitments (you already know my views). Ironically, my comment was written in relation to the first version of the commitments but features in the “current intelligence” section of the journal. Fortunately I did explicitly envisage “likely further tweaks over specific details” and all comments are applicable to the new (leaked) proposal.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

26 November 2013 at 12:15 pm

Ugly -at first sight- but interesting (on nullity under EU competition law)

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Some time ago Nicolas Charbit (Concurrences) asked Luis Ortiz Blanco and myself to write a foreword for a special issue of e-Competitions on “Nullity/Voidness”.

Yes, at first I had the same reaction you just had; kinda  “What?? Wasn’t there a less sexy topic? I bet they asked us because no one else wanted to do it!”. But we accepted the offer (partly because it was for Concurrence, and partly because we still haven’t learnt to say no). Then we started thinking about it. For some time our only thought was mainly “damn, damn, damn, why did we accept to do this?“.

But when we really undertook to work on this foreword (the weekend before the tenth deadline expired), we realized the reason why the theme of nullity does not rank high in the list of preferred topics of EU competition law commentators. Reflecting upon it requires an excursion into “terra incognita”. Making sense out of the various intellectual riddles that arise with regard to nullity/voidness requires not only a knowledge of competition law principles, but also a mastering of general principles of contract law, as well as of comparative law, that are all too rare in our narrow discipline. In other words, we found out that the topic demands not a foreword but a doctoral dissertation. In spite of the appearances, it’s as interesting as it is important.

In our view, the most interesting issues concern so-called “fruit agreements”, that is, agreements distinct from the one found in breach of the competition rules but that are instrumental to realise the profits sought therewith (e.g. the agreements between a company participating in a cartel and its customers). It is clear that a given anticompetitive clause within an agreement shall be deemed void. It is also well-established that the nullity of such given clause can possibly extend the nullity to the rest of the agreement of which it is part provided that the two are not severable, and that whether a given clause is severable from an agreement is to be decided by national courts in the light of the applicable legislation in each Member State and of the specific features of each agreement. And whereas the practical application of these principles may give rise to divergent results, the situation –at the level of EU law principles- is fairly satisfactory.

What is less satisfactory is the uncertainty surrounding the validity of agreements which do not directly breach the competition rules but which stem –and actually put into practice- another agreement that does. The case law of the European Courts states, on the one hand, that the “the nullity referred to in Article [101](2) (…) is capable of having a bearing on all the effects, either past or future, of the agreement” (Courage v Crehan, para. 22) and, on the other hand, that “[t]he consequences of such nullity for other parts of the agreement, and for any orders and deliveries made on the basis of the agreement, and the resulting financial obligations are not a matter for community law. Those consequences are to be determined by the national court according to its own law” (Kerpen & Kerpen, para. 12). In other words, EU law purports to deal with the nullity of the effects of the anticompetitive agreement, but not with the vehicles (ensuing contracts) that carry out such effects. Does this make sense?

Those interested in finding out our view on this issue, and on a few others, can read the full foreword here: Foreword eCompetitions Nullity/Voidness  (It’s only 5 pages long; not long enough to bore you to death).

The rest of the special issue is available here.

Have a great weekend!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

9 November 2012 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Journals

The vertical expression of a horizontal desire

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A few days ago someone sent us a very interesting piece published by Okeoghene Odudu (who is also the author of a great book on Art. 101) in European Competition Journal (August 2011) under the title: “Indirect Information Exchange and the Constituen Elements of Hub and Spoke Collusion“.

Although we have enjoyed the substance of this article, the reason why it was sent to us in the first place was not its content but rather a particular footnote at the very end of it. It reads as follows:

“187.  In his blog posting of 21 February 2011, Nicolas Petit expressed the view that there was nothing worthy of analysis in the hub-and-spoke phenomenon and concluded by writing, “The bottom-line: I will fight any proposal to organise an event on hub-and-spoke agreements. See http://chillingcompetition.com/2011/02/21/much-ado-about-nothing/.”

[*Note by Alfonso: The original post features a smiley face like this :) right after this quoted statement. The face is nevertheless missing in the quote that appeared in the article. It's a pity, because it would have been funny to see the smiley appear in European Competition Journal!].

However, by 24 May 2011 he seems to have had a conversion, announcing that, through the Brussels School of Competition Law, he had co-organised a seminar on information exchange, to deal in part with “Sharing Information through Intermediaries (supply-purchase relationships, distribution agreements, meet and release clauses, hub-and-spokes, etc)”. See http://chillingcompetition.com/2011/05/24/information-exchange-in-eu-competition-law-conference-22-june/

We were surprised at this footnote (since we don’t always take what we write seriously, it’s curious to find out that people do), which nonetheless expresses a very legitimate opinion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

28 March 2012 at 5:02 pm

Ebooks and Resale Price Maintenance

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Last week the European Commission announced the opening of formal proceedings to investigate whether international publishers may have engaged in anti-competitive agency agreements regarding the sale of ebooks (see Press Release). Dawn-raids in connection with this case were carried out last March.

Today´s edition of the Financial Times (edited by Pearson -a publisher affected by the investigation-) features a most interesting piece on a very related topic under the title Don´t make Amazon a monopoly.

Its author -John Gapper- argues that competition authorities in the US and the EU should not challenge the arrangements under which publishers set minimum prices for ebooks and preclude companies such as Amazon, Apple or Barnes&Noble from offering discounted prices. It explains that this is a textbook example of the situation that the US Supreme Court had in mind when it overturned Dr. Miles in its Opinion in Leegin, and submits that it would be paradoxical for competition rules to enable free riding-based discounting on the part of Amazon, thus enhancing its alleged “monopoly”.

This situation and the legal controvery surrounding it raises very interesting questions that go beyond the situation at issue and which have the potential to affect online distribution in general.

Does anyone have any strong views on this?

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

15 December 2011 at 6:27 pm

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