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Some thoughts on the new anti-Google (Android) complaint (2/3): Predatory pricing claims

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This is the second post in a series; click here for Post 1 (on background and dominance)

According to FairSearch  (see here) “Google’s predatory distribution of Android at below-cost makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google’s dominant mobile platform“.

Unsurprisingly, this claim has spurred very strong reactions from the FOSS community, which regards it as a direct attack to the Open Source/FreeSoftware development model (see notably here, here and here). Android is indeed FreeSoftware, meaning not only that it is distributed for free, but also that it adheres to the so-called 4 freedoms: (i) the freedom to run the program, for any purpose; (ii) the freedom to study how the program works, and to adapt it to the user’s needs; (iii) the freedom to redistribute copies; and (iv) the freedom to improve the program and release the improvement to the public. This means that asking Google to start charging for Android would be akin to force it to stop supporting FreeSoftware.

A quick look, however, would reveal that this is a non-issue. It is undisputable that given Android’s FreeSoftware/public good nature Google doesn’t have the ability to set a price. The price is 0.

There are certainly interesting pricing issues to be discussed in the software industry, but, in our view, they arise with respect to proprietary software, not free software.

This should be enough to end the discussion, but if this interests you, click on the hyperlink below for more developed thoughts (if you’re lazy you can just stick to the arguments in bold to get the general idea):

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

6 September 2013 at 12:39 pm

Some thoughts on the new anti-Google (Android) complaint (Post 1/3)

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At Chillin’Competition we have paid considerable attention to a number of IT-related competition developments, and –like most other followers of these matters in Europe and elsewhere- we have shown predilection to comment on the pending EC investigation over Google’s search practices. Nicolas, Pablo Ibañez-Colomo and myself have devoted tenths of posts to offering our –often conflicting- views on a number of issues raised in that case.

We –or at least I- had until now not really paid attention to the more recent FairSearch complaint regarding Android, and this despite the repeated warnings of Enrique Colmenero (our new associate and a geek who knows a bit about Android (he says not sufficiently well, I say it’s unbelievable), who was also the real author of my Google ppt), and who kept on telling me that the allegations in this complaint merited some public discussion. I first looked into it last week while writing the post about Skype’s integration with Windows, and realized that he’s right.

Given that all things Google raise the number of visits to the blog and spur more debate than other topics, we’re decided to comment on this yet non-case. We devoted a weekend to writing our preliminary views, and since the result is fairly lengthy we’ll be breaking the discussion into three separate posts: Today we will provide some background and deal briefly with market definition issues. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the predation claims. And Monday we’ll address the bundling allegations.

Before getting into substance, four disclaimers are necessary. The first is that by myself I wouldn’t have had the required technical knowledge to comment about this, so I’m borrowing Enrique’s (any errors, however, are only mine). The second is that we are not working for any party interested in this case and therefore comment on the basis of publicly available info (for fuller disclosure, some time ago I had two chats with someone on the complainants side as well as with someone working for Google; in both cases they let me know their views on the complaint). The third is that since we don’t want this blog to be a place to discuss cases in a seemingly one-sided way (much less when they are ongoing, like this one), we’ll be happy to open this platform to anyone willing to reason any disagreement with the opinions provided below. We don’t intend to defend a given position, but to reflect on issues that interest the antitrust community, and we are more than open to be persuaded that what we say is wrong. The fourth is that even if now criticize a complaint lodged by Microsoft FairSearch in the past we’ve also heavily critized complaints targeting Microsoft, like this one.

Bored already? If you’re stil reading I guess not, so let’s get started:

Some background to the complaint

Back in April the anti-Google alliance FairSearch (in this case only two of its members Microsoft and Nokia [Note: after I was done writing this post I learnt the news that Microsoft is acquiring Nokia’s mobile business] seem to have a real interest in the case) lodged a complaint with DG Comp alleging: (a) that by giving Android to device-makers for “free” Google engages in predatory conduct (making it difficult for rivals to recoup the investments made in developing competing mobile operating systems; and (b) that “phone makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps, Youtube or Play are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services, and to give them prominent default placement on the phone”. Click here for FairSearch’s Press Release.

Rumor has it that the Commission recently sent out requests for information in relation to this complaint.

A business problem model?

In our view, this complaint can only be properly understood once one is aware about the existence of essentially 3 different business models for mobile operating systems (OSs). One is Apple’s vertically integrated model (iPhones run on Apple’s own iOS), another is Microsoft’s licensing model (OEM’s wishing to have smartphones running on Windows have to pay for a license), and the third is Android’s free software model (Android is distributed for free under a an open source license which enables licensees to do whatever they wish with the code), which has also been the model adopted by all new market entrants (Ubuntu, Firefox OS, Jolla’s Sailfish or Tizen –backed among others by Samsung and Intel-); Nokia’s Symbian (the market leader until 2011, now maintained by Accenture) was always and is also open source.

Manufacturers that are not vertically integrated at the OS level like Apple or Blackberry  had to find a competitive OS, there being, until now, essentially two reliable options: Microsoft’s Windows (which they had to pay for), and Android (which OEMs obtain on a free-license basis; even if they have to pay some royalties….to Microsoft! ; some even say that Microsoft makes more money from Android than from the Windows mobile OS). Not surprisingly, the market tends to favor the open source model and, quite logically, Microsoft doesn’t like that (you’ll recall that it also “had issues” with open source OS for PCs). It’s against this background that the complaint comes, in what some see as an attempt to reverse the course of the business model that is proving most successful.

On market power/dominance as a pre-requisite.

Every press-clip citing FairSearch’s allegations refer to the claim that Android enjoys a market share of 70%. This is a bit equivocal. In reality, the fact appears to be that 70% of smartphones (leaving tablets, led by Apple, aside on the assumption that they belong to a different market) shipped in the last quarter of 2012 had Android. And in reality, usage market shares appear to show a duopoly of iPhones and Android phones (see here or here) rather than an Android monopoly; moreover, revenue-baded market shares clearly tilt the balance in Apple’s favor (as explained here) [As to the future trend: Android is certainly doing spectacularly well lately, but we bet iPhone sales will increase once Apple abandons its (rather Steve Job’s) exclusive-good marketing strategy, which is very profitable (see previous hyperlink) but has costs in terms of market share. Android phones sell very well, among other reasons, because they are often subsidized by operators; iPhones on the other hand have traditionally been quite costly. The moment iPhones are cheaper Apple’s share should increase significantly] So, in reality, Android seems to face rather intense competition from Apple’s iOS, Windows, Blackberry; even its main customer (Samsung) has also developed its own OS Bada/Tizen (it also “multi-homes” by licensing Windows for some devices).

Against the background of what would appear to be a competitive smartphone market, the way to come up with a monopoly-like share would require 1) to distinguish separate markets for tablets (where Apple is the leader) and smartphones; and 2) to also take Apple and Blackberry out from the smartphone-only calculation by defining a relevant market for licensable mobile OSs, which intuitively seems a bit of a Procrustean move.

More importantly, forget about market shares for a second. The truly relevant question is: does Android enjoy significant market power? Can it profitably raise prices or decrease output or innovation?  Because Android is OpenSource/FreeSoftware (obtainable for free, its source code is entirely disclosed, it can be freely modified/”forked” [see here for “what the fork is forking”?] and appropriated by third parties: just look at Replicant, CyanogenMod, MIUI or at Amazons’ Kindle) we don’t see how Google would be able to exert market power in any way. Even Microsoft and Nokia could take Android and do what they please with it (they could even try to fork/improve it and compete with Google).

Actually, could we even say for sure that there is a “market” for licenseable OSs when all licenses (except Microsoft’s) are FreeSoftware licenses?

Moreover, and as regards innovation, there are very few markets with innovation cycles as fast as the one for smartphones’ OSs having featured a number of leaders in recent years: Palm, Symbian, iPhone, Blackberry and now Android. And this is because given the prevalence of FreeSoftware barriers to entry are extremely low. The moment someone comes up with a more innovative (better) product (including an improved version of Android unrelated to Google), Google would also lose its current lead.

But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that Android is dominant and look at the theories of harm, which bring up some interesting issues In our second post we’ll discuss the predatory pricing claims, and in our third post we’ll deal with the bundling aspects of the case.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

5 September 2013 at 1:35 pm

Déjà vu? Microsoft announces Skype’s integration in Windows

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On 15 August Microsoft announced on a blog post that Skype will come installed by default in Windows 8.1, and that it will be prominently displayed in its “Start” Menu (see Skype-right from (the) “Start”)

The news appears to have surprised many, who have publicly wondered whether Microsoft is actively looking for antitrust trouble (see notably here, here, or here).

And, of course, given my involvement in Skype-related competition matters, when I returned from my summer holidays I had a good number of emails from students, journalists, lawyers, friends and even family who were sending me the news and asking for an opinion. Since it would not be practical to reply to all those emails separately, I have decided to do it here.

[A disclaimer first: as frequent readers of this blog know I represent the two companies who chose to challenge the Commission’s decision authorizing the Microsoft/Skype deal. This means that I certainly am not an impartial observer, but it does not mean that the views set out here are to be attributed to my clients or my firm; they are exclusively mine. These views also refer to a conduct which is post-decision and therefore not the subject of the pending case].

My first comment is:  Did anyone really not see this coming?

During the past few months Microsoft has pervasively integrated Skype with most of its products. Skype is now closely integrated with, for instance, Office, Office 365, Outlook, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), Windows Phone 8, Xbox, Lync (as announced only minutes after our Court hearing ended), and it was only a matter of time that it would come pre-installed in Windows. In the meanwhile, Skype’s only meaningful competitor in the consumer world (WindowsLiveMessenger) has disappeared and its users have been migrated to Skype.  As a result, Skype’s user base has skyrocketed since the merger (going from approx. 150 to over 300 million unique monthly users), and rapidly growing.

[By the way, all this obviously voluntarily enhances the already powerful network effects at play in the only communication markets where interconnection is not mandatory, with obvious consequences]

Microsoft’s decision to bundle Skype pervasively with other Microsoft products, including – as just announced – Windows, may actually have come as a surprise to the European Commission. In its Microsoft/Skype decision, the Commission concluded that Microsoft would not have the incentive to tie Skype to other Microsoft “leading/dominant” products (e.g., para 155). No kidding.

Now let’s cut to the chase, can the integration of an application with a dominant operating system run afoul of the competition rules?

The European Commission itself has held various seemingly contradictory views over time.  Microsoft, too, appears to have opposite views on this question. Let me explain this:

In the light of the spirit and the letter of the Microsoft’s 2004 infringement decision, the 2007 Microsoft Judgment, the 2009 Microsoft commitment decision, Skype’s integration with Windows would likely raise some antitrust flags (notably concerning the market for video calls, given that currently over 3 out of 4 video calls are made using PCs). As you know, in all of those precedents, the Commission and the General Court observed that pre-installation resulted in an unparalleled distributional advantage that could not be offset by the downloading of competing applications.

The Microsoft/Skype 2011 decision, however, arrived at exactly the opposite conclusion. The comments voiced out in the past few days in the media seem to have overlooked the fact that the Microsoft/Skype Decision – despite denying Microsoft’s incentives to tie Skype to its products – did actually address the possibility that Skype could be tied to Windows, and that it ruled out any competition concerns. The Decision acknowledged that pre-merger Skype was already present on approximately 60% of Windows PCs pursuant to agreements with OEMs, but alleged that there was data -not cited- showing that in practice pre-installation resulted only in a small share of Skype users (para 162). In other words, the Commission considered that pre-installation does not offer that much of a competitive advantage because users could easily and freely download Skype and other competing applications.

Query: does anyone see any inconsistencies between the Commission’s approaches to downloading? The Commission is certainly entitled to change approaches, but since the reasons for this change were not set out in the Decision, it’s difficult to identify with clarity what the Commission’s current approach to pre-installation vs. downloading is.

If you want to play more “find the differences”, try comparing the Commission’s prospective analyses and approaches to technical tying/bundling (and, for that matter, to interoperability degradations too) in Intel/McAfee (2011) and Microsoft/Skype (2011).

And whereas the Commission’s shifting viewpoints are remarkable, what is more striking is that Microsoft is, as of today, advocating two opposite legal standards, one for itself and another for Google:

As you may remember, back in April the FairSearch coalition (led in this case by Microsoft and Nokia) lodged a complaint against Google arguing that Google is abusing Android’s alleged dominance in the market for mobile operating systems by bundling certain “core Apps” with its operating system.

[The way I see it, in the case of Android the dominance and the bundlling are much more doubttful, but that is another story, and one interesting enough -I’ve just realized- to deserve some specific comments in the coming days].

So, in one case Microsoft is claiming that the pre-installation of Google apps on Android phones constitutes an abuse of a dominant position in the market for mobile OSs (no matter if users are free to download any competing application; btw, Skype for Android has no less than 100 million users!), but, at the same time, having Skype pre-installed in the dominant PC OS poses no problem (precisely because users are free to download other applications).

Anyone else sees any issue conflict?

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

2 September 2013 at 4:56 pm

Cases that never will be (I) – Hynix (Case T-148/10)

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Last week one of the most knowledgeable people in the EU competition law world (Commission official whose name I can’t disclose) tipped me to a new series of blog posts:

His words were “someone should one day write on a blog the story of competition cases that could have had a significant impact on the law had they not been withdrawn”. Since the number of competition law bloggers is not that high (even though it’s rapidly increasing…), and since I was the addressee of the message, I sort of got the point.

Actually, I very much like the idea of writing about cases that never were or, rather, that never will be.

There are a few candidate cases to be discussed; a non-exhaustive tentative list of non-cases could include: Siderca, Chi Mei, Suez-Environment, Formula One, Oulmers, BIC Deutschland, Balog or Van der Weerd. [Additional suggestions would be welcome].

Today we’ll start with Hynix (Rambus), a case in which the hearing was scheduled for 2 July but that was withdrawn a few days ago following a settlement.

The Judgment that will never come to light in this case would have constituted a most important precedent in relation to some important general enforcement issues, as well as in relation to an eventual judicial review of the current investigations concerning Google or Samsung.

A bit of background:

In 2002 Hynix filed a complaint alleging that Rambus had engaged in deceptive conduct in a standard setting procedure in relation to DRAM chips by not disclosing the existence of the patents and patent applications which it later claimed were relevant to the adopted standard, and that it had later charged excessive royalties for the use of those patents (i.e. royalties higher than those that it would have been able to claim had it not engaged in deceptive conduct). This is what is generally referred to as “patent ambush”.

The case was interesting because the deceptive conduct at issue had made Rambus acquire dominance (it preceded dominance), and the charging of high royalties could be regarded as the natural consequence of such dominance. Given that EU law does not target “monopolization” practices (those use to achieve dominance), the Commission had attempted to close this enforcement gap by targeting exploitative pricing under Art. 102 under the argument that dominance had been unlawfully attained. This was a brave and controversial move on the part of the Commission.

On 27 July 2007 the Commission adopted a statement of objections setting out its concerns. Rambus responded to the SO and a hearing was held.

Almost two years later, however, Rambus submitted preliminary commitments, those were later market-tested, revised, and eventually made binding on December 2009 (in a nutshell, Rambus committed (i) not to charge royalties for the two standards adopted while Rambus engaged in the deceptive conduct; (ii) to set a maximum royalty of 1,5% for the later generation of standards and to offer thus maximum rate to all market participants). (Note that the commitments concerned only future payments, not those already made).

As you know, in a case like this (or in a case like Google’s), once the Commission accepts commitments it must (a) adopt an Article 9 decision making them binding; and (b) adopt a decision rejecting any complaints stating that there are no longer grounds for action.

Hynix appealed both of these decisions.

In essence, Hynix argued that the Commission violated Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003 by choosing the procedure envisaged in that article where its concerns related to a serious violation of Art. 102.

In its SO, the Commission had envisaged a finding that the charging by Rambus of capped royalties is incompatible with Article 102 (82 back then). However, the corollary of the commitment decision was to make royalty caps binding, thus endorsing their legality.

The Judgment that will never on this case would have shed light on some of the hottest current topics in EU competition law (abuse of dominance in high-tech sector, misuse of patents, the circumstances in which the Commission can or cannot adopt commitment decisions…).  In the past we have devoted lots of ink pixels to discussing these issues, and it’s a pity for the law that questions like the following will, for the time being, remain unaddressed:

 What constitutes an abusive practice with respect to standardization, in particular so far as concerns patent ambushing?

Were commitments in the form of future royalty caps sufficient to eradicate the competitive problems found by the Commission?

What guiding principles (beyond Alrosa) are to be taken into account when assessing the appropriateness and adequacy of commitments? 

Can the Commission address what it had perceived as a serious violation by means of a commitments decision? In that context, may the Commission adopt remedies which are only prospective in nature? Is the Commission entitled to have recourse to a commitment (Article 9) decision after having adopted a Statement of Objections? And in this case, can a Statement of Objections be considered as a valid “preliminary assessment” for the purposes of Art. 9 of Regulation 1/2003?

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

21 June 2013 at 10:00 am

Preliminary thoughts on Google’s proposed commitments

with 3 comments

As long anticipated, here are some comments on the proposed commitments in the Google case (I graciously granted myself an extension, like the one other third parties have received; it actually is convenient because I can comment on others’ comments as well).

Four caveats are in order:

  • The views expressed below are written against the background of the Commission’s concerns as set out in the press release and the Q&A doc. accompanying the market testing of Google’s proposal. The relevant question to keep in mind is whether the proposed commitments –in their current form- are apt to address the concerns identified by the Commission in its preliminary assessment, not whether they are apt to lead to candy world for satisfy the wishes of all third parties.
  • My views are necessarily incomplete and they’re also work in progress. I’ve only read the limited publicly available information and have not had access to any confidential info or documents that might be contained in the case-file.  Moreover, I have allocated two flights time to draft this (and I should ideally also do some billable work, you see), so I’ll (i) update and improve this document on the basis of any new thoughts or possible feedback and (ii) refine my thoughts for a forthcoming piece on Oxford’s Journal of Competition Law and Practice
  • My views are mine (sounds like a tautology, but don’t always take this for granted in our area of work…); some of my colleagues and clients may well have different opinions.
  • I haven’t worked nor for Google nor for any of the 17 complainants.

In case I haven’t yet got you tired before even starting, here is a methodological explanation. This will be a five-pronged analysis; I will very succinctly summarize (i) DG Comp’s concerns; (ii) my take on the substantive concerns; (iii) the content of the proposed commitments; (iv) third-party criticism of the proposal (notably that read here, here, here or here) (I actually read some favorable comments as well); and (v) my take on the proposed commitments.  And this for each of the four concerns flagged by the Commission (although only the two first ones raise interesting issues).

The structure will make this post longer. In order not to cram the page, click if interested.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

13 June 2013 at 7:00 pm

European Commission prohibits Ryanair/Aer Lingus deal

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Last Wednesday the Commission confirmed that it has decided to prohibit -for the second time- the proposed merger between Ryanair and Aer Lingus merger (click here for the press release). This is the fourth prohibition decision adopted under Commissioner Almunia, and the 24th in the history of EU competition law.

The decision has not yet been published. We had assumed that while we waited for it we could at least report on Michael O’Leary’s (Ryanair’s CEO) reactions. However, Mr. O’Leary has not made any public statements of the kind that we were expecting (remember his analogy between the European Commission officials and North Korean economists?  🙂

Ryanair has issued a press release in which it argues that its offer “was supported by an historic and unprecedented remedies package that included not one, but two upfront buyers (BA/IAG & Flybe) to take over approximately half of Aer Lingus’ short-haul business (…) The transfer to these upfront buyers of Aer Lingus’ business on the 46 crossover routes identified by the EU Commission, together with the relevant slots, aircraft, personnel and branding, was ensured by binding, irrevocable commitments by those upfront buyers including Board approvals”. In Ryanair’s view, “[t]he history of the EU’s treatment of Ryanair’s two offers for Aer Lingus conclusively proves that this prohibition is a “political” decision to pander to the vested interests of the Irish Government (a minority 25% shareholder in Aer Lingus) and is not one that is based on a fair and reasonable application of EU competition rules or precedent airline merger approvals in Europe”.

We have no clue on whether the allegations over the political motivations of the decision are founded or not. But politics aside, this case resuscitates some tricky substantive/institutional questions. The nature and scope of the remedies proposed by Ryanair was indeed pretty substantial, and arguably unprecedented (Ryanair had even pledged to give 100 million to Flybe to ensure its sustainability) so, query:

Are EU merger control rules on when an up-front buyer is a suitable one sufficiently clear? What discretion should the Commission enjoy in this regard? Ryanair has announced that it will appeal the decision before the General Court, so we should expect to have some answers to these question soon.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

1 March 2013 at 4:51 pm

Where’s the Law? (or Google and the European Commission)

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where

I said to myself I would keep up the promise I made to Alfonso and continue writing in the blog until Nicolas is back or he recovers (which we hope will be very soon) and starts posting notes again (I failed to anticipate that he wouldn´t stop…)

More to the point: as a complete outsider, I find the lack of publicly available information on the European Google case frustrating, as it is fascinating on more than one level. I just thought that the best way I could rebel against this situation is by making my views on the ongoing proceedings publicly available.

The behaviour of the European Commission in the past few months is interesting (if not puzzling) in at least three important respects:

  • The Commission has repeatedly asked Google to submit commitments. One could very well argue that nothing prevents the Commission from doing this. At the same time,this conduct is at odds with the logic of Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003. At least it shows (as if we did not know it already) that the ECJ judgment in Alrosa (as well as AG Kokott’s opinion) ignores how negotiations between firms and competition authorities are conducted in reality.
  • A commitment decision is the only acceptable outcome for the Commission. In his public statements Commissioner Almunia suggests that the case will only be closed once the authority accepts the commitments submitted by Google. Put differently, we have reached a point where the case is not so much about an authority establishing an infringement by a firm but about a firm proposing a settlement that is acceptable for the authority.
  • The Commission assumes that the alleged discriminatory conduct is an abuse of dominance: The whole case seems to be based on the premise that the fact for Google to favour its own services is an abuse of dominance within the meaning of Article 102 TFEU. Commissioner Almunia has even been explicit about this matter. This conclusion is very far from straightforward to reach. It is a factual scenario that can be approached in many different ways. It raises novel and complex questions to which different (and contradictory) lines of case law seem to apply .Unfortunately, the Commission has never even attempted to articulate the legal framework potentially applicable to this case. This would be most desirable, if only because it would make it possible to ascertain whether the Guidance Paper was just the expression of a moment of temporary folly, and not (as I assumed it would) a pre-commitment device designed to preserve long-run legal certainty.

I do not think an expert poker player would advise the Commission to take these moves. Even outsiders like me cannot avoid inferring from them that the (legal) case is probably weaker than the Commission appears to suggest. As an academic, it is the fact that the law has disappeared from the case that I find most worrying, in any event. The question of whether, and why, Google’s conduct would be abusive seems to be no longer of relevance for its outcome. In this sense, this case shows the dramatic impact that the abusive recourse to commitment decisions (in particular where, as is the case here, genuinely novel legal questions are at stake) can have on the evolution of our discipline.

Pablo

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

19 January 2013 at 7:56 pm

On competition and blogs

with one comment

Competition seems to be moving moving to the blog arena.

Some of you may recall that a while ago we discussed the case of a Spanish professor who had been sued for accusing a Promusicae of anticompetitive behavior (see here).  We are glad to report that the blogger has won the case, thereby establishing a good precedent to shield Nico and myself from possible similar attacks 😉

Another interesting blog-related development has taken in the U.S. In the context of a high-profile patent infringement case between Google and Oracle, district court judge Alsup has ordered these companies to diclose the identity of bloggers, journalists and consultants that they pay for favorable opinions or consultancy work (for more, see here or here).

This decision has been triggered by the revelation that Florian Müller a well-known IP blogger (from the blog FOSS Patents) had been hired by Oracle shortly after the trial begun.

This unprecedented move should cast light upon the problem related to the lack of transparency surrounding blog content. As the influence of certain blogs grows, it is necessary to start thinking whether the ethical rules governing traditional journalism should also apply in this area. It has certainly led Nicolas and myself to reflect on the way we want to do things.

In our case, we don’t pretend to be impartial informers. We are simply two young professionals who voice out subjective opinions in public to entertain and/or to spur some hopefully interesting debates. We see Chillin’Competition more like a diary than like a newspaper story or an academic paper, and therefore don’t feel under the pressure of being always perfectly informed, accurate, exhaustive and objective about what we write. Of course we try to do our best and to be as technically rigurous as possible, but we’re not afraid of posting first thoughts on some topics, even if our views may evolve afterwards (remember our disclaimer?) 🙂

 

The small dimension of the competition law community makes it practically unfeasible to continuously disclose personal links. We often know quite well, or are friends with, in-house counsel, external counsel, Commission officials, clerks or Judges involved in all sides of the cases on which we comment here. Disclosing friendship or other informal ties with the people involved in the cases on which we comment would be tremendously burdensome (and it would look a bit weird too…). As said above, we don’t pretend to be always objective. In fact, we generally try to be subjective, but we develop our reasons and we expose them to public criticism. For the time being, our policy is to indicate only the cases in which we are personally involved. Also, where we have written about a case and have later become involved in it, we have also publicly stated it. However, we are, as always, open to comments and suggestions on how to better do what we do.

Blogging law is getting increasingly complicated. Nico: we need a lawyer.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

14 August 2012 at 7:55 pm

Oops!

with 4 comments

Monsieur Petit seems to have abandoned this blog in order to share his thoughts on an exclusive basis with US media. On Wednesday he was quoted again in The New York Times, this time in relation to yet another a new investigation on Microsoft’s non-compliance with a Commission’s decision.

As you may know, the Commission issued a statement announcing an investigation over Microsoft’s possible non-compliance with the 2009 commitment decision which obliged it to include a brouser choice screen to enable users to pick a browser instead of using the pre-installed one (until then Internet Explorer).

Microsoft has also issued a statement apologizing and explaining that:

“We have fallen short in our responsibility to do this. Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the Browser Choice Screen (BCS) software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7. The BCS software has been delivered as it should have been to PCs running the original version of Windows 7, as well as the relevant versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. However, while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1”.

The Commission has anticipated that it might impose “severe” penalties.

Keith Hylton (Boston University) has stated that the Commission is overreacting because “there may be a few people on the planet, living deep in forests on the Marshall Islands, who are not already aware that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is not the only browser available”.

The well-informed and ironic reader who has conveyed Mr. Hylton’s statement to us responds that “whoever at Microsoft was not aware that they had to include a browser choice screen in Windows must also live deep in the forests in the Marshall islands, and whoever told the Commission in December that such error had not happened must live in the woods next door”.

We lack any precise information about this investigation but it’s hardly conceivable that Microsoft would do this on purpose, so, just as Microsoft says, this is most certainly due to an unfortunate mistake.

In any event, this story shows that antitrust law does perhaps not worry some companies as much as we usually think. Most importantly, the fact that nobody had noticed until now that 28 million copies of Windows had been sold since February 2011 without the browser choice screen says something about how compliance with antitrust commitments is monitored…

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

20 July 2012 at 1:43 pm

Ruminations on the Google investigation

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Over the past few months we have provided you with our views on the investigation undertaken by the European Commission with respect to Google. Here is an account of recent developments, thoughts, concerns, readings, ideas, and possible questions to be posed:

The developments. As you all may well know, the Commission has sent Google a preliminary assessment (a necessary formal step towards a commitment decision under Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003) and has requested Google to provide swiftly proposals of possible commitments that could address the concerns set out on that document. For the Commission’s statement identifying in broad terms the practices it objects to, see here.

In parallel, Google has lodged a complaint against Microsoft and Nokia. Google claims that “Nokia and Microsoft are colluding to raise the costs of mobile devices for consumers, creating patent trolls that side-step promises both companies have made. They should be held accountable, and we hope our complaint spurs others to look into these practices“. We have no additional information on this complaint and therefore do not have any opinion on whether it may be well-founded or not, but we regard it as something potentially interesting given that, until now, patent trolls had managed to stay more or less away from the antitrust spotlight in this bout of “patent wars” (note the IPCom settlement).

(By the way, the European Commission has excellent staff working on the unit dealing with cases related to IT, Internet and Consumer Electronics, but they must be incredibly swamped with so many complaints piling up on their desks).

The substantive concerns. We’ve already been quite vocal about our substantive concerns with regard to this case (note the caveat that we speak about matters of principle and on the basis of almost no case-specific information), so we won’t insist on them today.

The policy concern. We fully understand the policy rationale for changing the tone and attempting to address competition concerns in high-tech innovative markets swiftly and on the basis of “negotiated” solutions. However, the increasingly frequent recourse to such solutions also gives rise to several concerns. One of them is that commitment decisions do not contain a final position on the existence or non-existence of an infringement. If such decisions become the standard way of dealing difficult with cases –which would then be left substantively unresolved-, this would imply blurring the contours of the law. Laws should be clear. How can we expect the law on Article 102 to be clear when 14 out of the past 17 abuse of dominance cases were put to an end by virtue of brief and unconclusive commitment decisions? How does one strike the right balance between setting the law straight and addressing competitive concerns rapidly and effectively?

The doubt. (this one is not our’s but Pablo Ibañez’s): does publicly requesting a company to offer commitments fit with the letter and spirit of Article 9 of Regulation 1/2003?

The idea. We feel a bit frustrated by the fact that we’ve spent months thinking about this investigation having no information other than news clips and press releases. We’d love to see how the Commission has framed its concerns regarding Google under current competition law standards. We do not rule out the possibility that we may have been wrong all along, and maybe (although I have my doubts) having a look at the Commission’s preliminary assessment would convince us. How about requesting access to the non-confidential versions of the key documents in the file pursuant to Regulation 1049 as soon as the investigation is over? It could be an interesting exercise…

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Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

5 June 2012 at 9:36 pm