24 hours after the delivery of the eagerly awaited Coty judgement, the Steptoe EU Competition team is pleased to invite you to an in-person event to debate with lead stakeholders on the consequences of this judgment for the online resale of branded goods in the EU.

The event will be held at our premises in Brussels on December 7 from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm and it will also be video live streamed for those who cannot attend in person.

More information in this link.

(Participation is free of charge)

Are platform bans anti-competitive? While brand owners, distributors, platforms and the antitrust community are clinging to the edge of their seats waiting for the final determination from the European Court of Justice (CoJ) in the Coty judgment awaited on December 6, 2017, we are reporting on an interesting development in France on this topic.

On September 13, 2017, the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) delivered its judgment in the Caudalie case. The judgment overturns a previous ruling of the Paris Court of Appeal (Cour d’appel de Paris) which found that platform bans may be restrictive of competition. Check out our briefing to learn more about the judgment, as well as its practical implications (spoiler alert: Caudalie does not settle the debate on platform bans).

Please join our Brussels antitrust team this week, for two events focused on hot topics in EU distribution law.

On October 25, we will host the fourth in a series of webinars tackling recent enforcement developments affecting the distribution of goods and services in Europe. This webinar will provide practical insights on most favoured nation clauses (MFNs), in particular how such clauses have been stigmatized by enforcers in Europe, and whether and to what extent there is scope to include such parity mechanisms in your distribution and supply contracts. Participation is free of charge. Sign up here to join us.

On October 26, Steptoe partner Yves Botteman will participate in the ERA conference on hot issues on anticompetitive practices in the online world. Yves will share his views on how the digital age is reshaping the European approach to price and non-price restraints. Among other topics, he will discuss the upcoming Coty judgment, which should shed light on the admissibility of marketplace bans imposed on selective distributors; limitations on cross-border sales (in particular contractual geoblocking); as well as new forms of price limitations, such as minimum online advertised prices. To join the conference, either in person or via livestream, please click here.

Please join Steptoe’s Antitrust Team on Wednesday, November 1, for an in depth discussion of criminal antitrust enforcement against employee no-poaching agreements. As detailed in our earlier blog post, on September 12, two high-level officials of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Antitrust Division confirmed the Trump Administration’s continued enforcement efforts against agreements among companies not to “poach” each other’s employees or on setting employees’ wages. Two such investigations are going on now, and more may arise. The Obama Administration’s decision to make violations criminal dramatically raised the risks for human resources and other senior company executives who set employee policies for their companies. In this webinar, we will delve into how these developments affect your business.

Find more interesting content in our Antitrust News & Briefs on the Steptoe website, where we provide you with more in-depth analyses on current antitrust & competition developments in the EU and the US. See below for some of our most recent publications.


Intel: ‘A Whole New World’

The European Court of Justice just came back to business with a bang. On September 6, 2017, it finally unveiled its long-awaited judgment in the Intel exclusivity rebates case. Click here to read more.


AG Wahl Delivers Opinion in the Coty Case

On July 26, AG Wahl delivered his opinion in the Coty case, addressing the legality of contractual third party platforms bans. Click here to read more.


Online Distribution: Are You Ready?

Following the conclusion of the e-commerce sector inquiry in May 2017, the European Commission has aggressively opened probes into online restrictions imposed by suppliers of branded goods and services. Click here to read more.

Do you need to notify a change from sole to joint control over an existing undertaking when the newly created joint venture is not full-function?

This question has been the subject of much debate with the European Commission’s case teams and has poisoned the life of companies and merger control practitioners for over a decade. In a much awaited judgement (September 7, 2017, Austria AsphaltC-248/16), the EU Court of Justice finally answered the question, stating that non full-function joint ventures are not subject to EU merger control.

This is a very welcome clarification of the rules for companies and their advisers, which will bring much needed legal certainty to some of their transactions. To read the full article click here.

In an open letter published shortly before the opening of the London Fashion week on September 12, 2017 (see here), the UK Competition and Market Authority (CMA) sent a strong reminder to creative industries that they are prohibited from engaging into price coordination and information sharing between competitors.

The CMA Letter: What’s In It?

The letter draws on the 2016 model agencies cartel case, in which the CMA fined five businesses and their trade association over £1.5 million for breaking competition law. According to the CMA, the agencies: (1) discussed prices for modeling services, and, in certain cases, agreed to fix minimum prices or to adopt a common approach to pricing, and (2) systematically exchanged sensitive information. As to the trade association, it circulated confidential information to the model agencies.

The case is currently under appeal. But, for the CMA, the take-away is already clear: creative industries must be reminded that the CMA takes price collusion very seriously and will not hesitate to take action if businesses operating in this sector break competition law.

A Serious Warning for Creative Industries

The CMA letter is a serious warning to the creative industry.

In its May 2017 decision regarding resale price maintenance in the light fitting sector, the CMA considered for the first time that failure to comply with competition law following receipt of a warning letter was an aggravating factor. Therefore, the regulator increased one of the investigated parties’ fines by 25%. The CMA justified this approach as follows:

“It is important that warning letters are taken seriously and that recipients read any such letters carefully […] the CMA considers that it is appropriate and proportionate to increase the penalty for the Endon infringement by 25% in this case for failure to comply with competition law following receipt of a warning letter”.

Based on this precedent, the CMA letter to those active in the creative industries should be taken very seriously, as any price collusion practices in the sector could well generate increased fines, due to the existence of a prior warning letter.

The CMA letter refers to the model agencies case. However, we assume that any business, engaged in the creative sector should be deemed included within the scope of the letter, given that it refers to the UK’s creative industries in very general terms. Also, given the timing of publication of the letter, we conclude that fashion industries are among the prime targets of the CMA.

On the Use of Open Letters to Ensure Compliance with Competition Law

This is not the first time that the CMA has sent an open letter to a wide range of industry participants. For instance, in June 2016, it published an open letter to retailers and suppliers regarding a particular practice, namely online resale price restrictions (see here). In December 2015, it warned medical practitioners about their obligations under competition law (see here).

The use of these letters is designed to achieve a greater level of UK awareness regarding the scope of competition law. The use of open letters allows the CMA to deal with an economic sector, in a didactic way and without first engaging in expensive sector-wide antitrust investigations, whilst at the same exposing those businesses who persist with non-compliant strategies to the risk of enhanced fines. Following Brexit, we expect the CMA to make increased use of this tool, in order to conserve its limited resources and given that it will face an increased workload in dealing with matters that might otherwise have been addressed by EU regulators.

On September 12, Andrew Finch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust in the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed the Trump Administration’s commitment to the criminalization of agreements among companies not to “poach” each other’s employees and agreements on employees’ wages, policies advanced significantly during the Obama Administration.

Continue Reading Trump DOJ Confirms Criminal Enforcement against Employee No-Poaching and Wage-Fixing Agreements

Steptoe partners Jonathan B. Sallet, Anthony J. LaRocca & Yves Botteman authored an article titled “Turning The Corner: The Internet Of (Moving) Things” for Competition Policy International. The article explores the intersection between the development of the Internet of Things and competition law, both from a US and a EU perspective. The article is available here.

The European Court of Justice (CoJ) just came back to business with a bang. On September 6, 2017, it delivered its long-awaited judgment in the Intel case. The CoJ refers the case back to the General Court (GC), with the instruction to review the economic arguments put forward by Intel in its defense against the European Commission’s (Commission) findings that its exclusivity rebates were anticompetitive.

The Intel judgment is significant insofar as it marks a major departure with previous case-law, which considered that exclusivity rebates are, by their very nature, anticompetitive. From now on, all rebates, whether exclusive or loyalty-enhancing, must be examined in light of all of the relevant circumstances, including their economic effects. In that respect, it must be ascertained whether the rebates are capable of excluding an as efficient competitor as the dominant company.

Arguably, this new approach is a – probably small – opening for dominant businesses willing to offer exclusivity rebates: under certain circumstances, such rebates might well withstand close antitrust scrutiny.

Click here to read our detailed briefing on the judgment.