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Amicus of IP Law Experts to the 2nd Circuit in Hachette v Internet Archive

Amicus Brief INTEREST OF AMICI CURIAE Amici Curiae are 24 former government officials, former judges, and intellectual property scholars who have developed copyright law and policy, researched . . .


Amici Curiae are 24 former government officials, former judges, and intellectual property scholars who have developed copyright law and policy, researched and written about copyright law, or both. They are concerned about ensuring that copyright law continues to secure both the rights of authors and publishers in creating and disseminating their works and the rights of the public in accessing these works. It is vital for this Court to maintain this balance between creators and the public set forth in the constitutional authorization to Congress to create the copyright laws. Amici have no stake in the parties or in the outcome of the case. The names and affiliations of the members of the Amici are set forth in Addendum A below.[1]


Copyright fulfills its constitutional purpose to incentivize the creation and dissemination of new works by securing to creators the exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution. 17 U.S.C. § 106. Congress narrowly tailored the exceptions to these rights to avoid undermining the balanced system envisioned by the Framers. See 17 U.S.C. §§ 107–22. As James Madison recognized, the “public good fully coincides . . . with the claims of individuals” in the protection of copyright. The Federalist NO. 43, at 271–72 (James Madison) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1961). Internet Archive (“IA”) and its amici wrongly frame copyright’s balance of interests as between the incentive to create, on the one hand, and the public good, on the other hand. That is not the balance that copyright envisions.

IA’s position also ignores the key role that publishers serve in the incentives copyright offers to authors and other creators. Few authors, no matter how intellectually driven, will continue to perfect their craft if the economic rewards are insufficient to meet their basic needs. As the Supreme Court observed, “copyright law celebrates the profit motive, recognizing that the incentive to profit from the exploitation of copyrights will redound to the public benefit by resulting in the proliferation of knowledge.” Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 212 n.18 (2003) (quoting Am. Geophysical Union v. Texaco Inc., 802 F. Supp. 1, 27 (S.D.N.Y. 1992)). Accordingly, the Supreme Court and Congress have long recognized that copyright secures the fruits of intermediaries’ labors in their innovative development of distribution mechanisms of authors’ works. Copyright does not judge the value of a book by its cover price. Rather, core copyright policy recognizes that the profit motive drives the willingness ex ante to invest time and resources in creating both copyrighted works and the means to distribute them. In sum, commercialization is fundamental to a functioning copyright system that achieves its constitutional purpose.

IA’s unauthorized reproduction and duplication of complete works runs roughshod over this framework. Its concept of controlled digital lending (CDL) does not fall into any exception—certainly not any conception of fair use recognized by the courts or considered by Congress—and thus violates copyright owners’ exclusive rights. Expanding the fair use doctrine to immunize IA’s wholesale copying would upend Congress’s carefully-considered, repeated rejections of similar proposals.

Hoping to excuse its disregard for copyright law, IA and its amici attempt to turn the fair use analysis on its head. They acknowledge that the first sale exception does not permit CDL, as this Court made clear in Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., 910 F.3d 649 (2d Cir. 2018).[2] They also are aware that courts consistently have rejected variations on the argument that wholesale copying, despite a format shift, is permissible under fair use.[3] Nevertheless, IA and its amici ask this Court, for the first time in history, to create a first sale-style exemption within the fair use analysis. CDL is not the natural evolution of libraries in the digital age; rather, like Frankenstein’s monster, it is an abomination composed of disparate parts of copyright doctrine. If endorsed by this Court, it would undermine the constitutional foundation of copyright jurisprudence and the separation of powers.

The parties and other amici address the specific legal doctrines, as well as the technical and commercial context in which these doctrinal requirements apply in this case, and thus Amici provide additional information on the nature and function of copyright that should inform this Court’s analysis and decision.

First, although IA and its amici argue that there are public benefits to the copying in which IA has engaged that support a finding that CDL is fair use, their arguments ignore that copyright itself promotes the public good and the inevitable harms that would result if copyright owners were unable to enforce their rights against the wholesale, digital distribution of their works by IA.

Second, IA’s assertion of the existence of a so-called “digital first sale” doctrine—a principle that, unlike the actual first sale statute, would permit the reproduction, as well as the distribution, of copyrighted works—is in direct conflict with Congress and the Copyright Office’s repeated study (and rejection) of similar proposals. Physical and digital copies simply are different, and it is not an accident that first sale applies only to the distribution of physical copies. Ignoring decades of research and debate, IA pretends instead that Congress has somehow overlooked digital first sale, yet left it open to the courts to engage in policymaking by shoehorning it into the fair use doctrine. By doing so, IA seeks to thwart the democratic process to gain in the courts what CDL’s proponents have not been able to get from Congress.

Third, given that there is no statutory support for CDL, most libraries offer their patrons access to digital works by entering into licensing agreements with authors and their publishers. Although a minority of libraries have participated in IA’s CDL practice, and a few have filed amicus briefs in support of IA in this Court, the vast majority of libraries steer clear because they recognize that wholesale copying and distribution deters the creation of new works. As author Sandra Cisneros understands: “Real libraries do not do what Internet Archive does.” A-250 (Cisneros Decl.) ¶12. There are innumerable ways of accessing books, none of which require authors and publishers to live in a world where their books are illegally distributed for free.

No court has ever found that reproducing and giving away entire works—en masse, without permission, and without additional comment, criticism, or justification—constitutes fair use. IA’s CDL theory is a fantasy divorced from the Constitution, the laws enacted by Congress, and the longstanding policies that have informed copyright jurisprudence. This Court should reject IA’s effort to erase authors and publishers from the copyright system.

[1] The parties have consented to the filing of this brief. Amici Curiae and their counsel authored this brief. Neither a party, its counsel, nor any person other than Amici and their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparing or submitting this brief.

[2] See SPA-38 (“IA accepts that ReDigi forecloses any argument it might have under Section 109(a).”); Dkt. 60, Brief for Defendant-Appellant Internet Archive (hereinafter “IA Br.”) (appealing only the district court’s decision on fair use).

[3] See, e.g., ReDigi, 910 F.3d at 662; UMG Recordings, Inc. v., Inc., 92 F. Supp. 2d 349, 352 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); see also Disney Enters., Inc. v. VidAngel, Inc., 869 F.3d 848, 861–62 (9th Cir. 2017).

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Comments of Patent-Law Experts in NIST ROI on Exercise of March-In Rights

Regulatory Comments As scholars, former judges, and former government officials who are experts in patent law, patent licensing, and innovation policy, we respectfully submit this comment in . . .

As scholars, former judges, and former government officials who are experts in patent law, patent licensing, and innovation policy, we respectfully submit this comment in response to the Request for Information (RFI) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the Draft Interagency Guidance Framework for Considering the Exercise of March-in Rights (Guidance Framework).[1] In the RFI, NIST states that it seeks “to ensure that [the Guidance Framework] is clear, and its application will both fulfill the purpose of march-in rights and uphold the policy and objectives of the Bayh-Dole Act.”[2] We believe that the Guidance Framework contradicts both the text and purpose of the Bayh-Dole Act, and thus it should be withdrawn by NIST.

For the first time since the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, NIST proposes a Guidance Framework for the four march-in powers in 35 U.S.C. § 203 that provides that “march-in is warranted” and thus an agency may issue licenses without authorization by the patent owner if “the price or other terms at which the product is currently offered to the public are not reasonable.”[3] The RFI expressly states that agencies that provided funding for subject inventions under the Bayh-Dole Act may “include consideration of factors that unreasonably limit availability of the invention to the public [as triggers of the march-in powers under § 203], including the reasonableness of the price and other terms at which the product is made available to end-users.”[4]

The Guidance Framework’s inclusion of “the reasonableness of the price [paid by] end-users” as a new criterion for any agency exercising the march-in powers in § 203 represents unprecedented and unauthorized regulatory authority. It lacks statutory authorization in the Bayh-Dole Act, as confirmed by its text, its purpose, and by other sources of statutory interpretation long relied on by courts and agencies, such as past interpretations of a statute by government officials. In fact, § 203 of the Bayh-Dole Act never mentions “price” as a criterion for the exercise of the four specified march-in powers, as contrasted with the RFI’s reference to “price” twenty-six (26) times.

Congress knows how to enact a price-control statute and to state clearly in a statute’s text that federal officials or agencies may consider “reasonable price” or even merely “price” as a condition for authorizing direct or indirect price controls on products produced and sold by private companies to consumers. One example is the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942,[5] among many others. The Bayh-Dole Act does not authorize this administrative power to control directly or indirectly prices, neither generally nor specifically in the four march-in conditions in § 203.

Other organizations and individuals with direct experience and knowledge in research and development in companies and universities, patent licensing under the Bayh-Dole Act, and in other related commercial activities in the U.S. innovation economy have submitted comments on these matters about which they have expertise. As legal experts, our comment explains why the Bayh-Dole Act does not authorize an agency to issue march-in licenses for the purpose of lowering prices on any product or service embodying a patent covered by this statute. First, it describes the evidence of the proven success of the patent system as a driver of innovation and economic growth. This is the necessary legal and policy framework for evaluating any proposed regulatory alterations to patent rights, especially unprecedented proposals like the Guidance Framework that would weaken or eliminate these patent rights. Second, it explains why the Guidance Framework lacks authorization in the Bayh-Dole Act according to its plain text, its statutory function, and its consistent implementation by agencies over several decades by bipartisan administrations. Third, it identifies how Senators Birch Bayh and Robert Dole expressly rejected claims by professors over two decades ago that the Bayh-Dole Act authorized agencies to use the march-in powers to control market prices of products and services. NIST should withdraw the proposed Guidance Framework.

The Success of the Patent System as a Driver of Economic Growth and Innovation

The patent system has been a key driver of the U.S. innovation economy for over 200 years, as economists, historians, and legal scholars have repeatedly demonstrated.[6] The patent system was central to the successes of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, the pharmaceutical and computer revolutions in the twentieth century, and the biotech and mobile telecommunications revolutions in the twenty-first century.[7] Patent systems that secure reliable and effective property rights to inventors consistently and strongly correlate with successful innovation economies.[8]

Dr. Zorina Khan, an award-winning economist, has demonstrated that reliable and effective property rights in innovation—patents—were a key factor in thriving markets for technology in the United States in the nineteenth century.[9] Other economists have also identified features of these robust nineteenth-century innovation markets—such as an increase in “venture capital” investment in patent owners, the rise of a secondary market in the sale of patents as assets, and the embrace of specialization via licensing business models—as indicators of value-maximizing economic activity made possible by reliable and effective patents.[10] This remains true today: a twenty-first-century startup with a patent more than doubles its chances of securing venture capital financing compared to a startup without a patent, and this patent-based startup has statistically-significant increased chances of success in the marketplace as well.[11]

These general economic insights and historical facts are especially evident in the biopharmaceutical sector. Historically, the U.S. has been a global leader in first securing innovations in new drugs, diagnostics, and other biotech innovations in healthcare.[12] As a result, the U.S. is a global leader in biomedical innovation. More than one-half of new drugs worldwide are invented in the U.S., improving the quality and duration of human life here and abroad.[13] For this reason, the U.S. patent system was identified as the “gold standard” in securing reliable and effective property rights in the fruits of innovative labors—patents.[14]

The real-world results of reliable and effective property rights—whether in real property or in patents—is extensive private investments, development of new products and services, and the creation and growth of new commercial markets. Just as in the high-tech sector and in the mobile revolution,[15] these same economic consequences are manifest in modern healthcare. The annual private investment in research and development (R&D) of new pharmaceutical and biotech innovations is approximately $129 billion (as of 2018).[16] This is almost triple the total amount of total public funding of $43 billion of R&D in healthcare innovations (as of 2018).[17] Medical diagnoses that once were either death sentences or led to a greatly diminished quality of life—cancer, hepatitis, and diabetes—are now treatable and manageable medical conditions within a relatively normal lifespan. This data is relevant in assessing the Guidance Framework because the Biden Administration has argued that it serves the purpose of lowering drug prices,[18] although the Guidance Framework does not state this nor does it limit the proposed “reasonable price” criterion to patented drugs and other inventions resulting from some upstream research funding in the life sciences by the federal government.

The evidence of the historical, economic, and empirical success of the U.S. patent system in driving innovation and economic growth is the baseline by which NIST should consider new regulatory proposals that ultimately weaken or restrict reliable and effective patents on new innovations throughout all sectors of the U.S. innovation economy. This includes the Guidance Framework, which includes an unprecedented power to issue nonexclusive licenses for the purpose of controlling prices on any patented product or service because a funding agency may deem it to be sold at “unreasonable prices.” The eight scenarios and examples in the Guidance Framework make clear that consideration of “reasonable price” as a condition for exercising the march-in power applies to every sector of the U.S. innovation economy, from manufacturing of highway signage to the 5G communication technologies implemented in connected cars.[19]

The evidentiary burden is on any official or agency proposing wide-ranging regulatory restrictions, additional costs, and additional legal uncertainties on patent owners. First, they must explain that proposed regulations are legally authorized. Second, they must explain, even if legally authorized, that there is reliable and robust data that supports this proposal as evidence-based policymaking. As will now be explained the Guidance Framework fails on both of these necessary conditions for an agency adopting new regulations, especially those that authorize unprecedented powers such as the Guidance Framework’s authorization of an agency to impose price controls under a “reasonable price” criterion for issuing nonexclusive licenses under § 203 of the Bayh-Dole Act. § 1498. These arguments are equally incorrect, as detailed below.

A Price-Control Power Contradicts the Text and Statutory Purpose of the Bayh-Dole Act

Congress enacted the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 to provide an incentive for private parties to make the significant, risky investments in new product development, in creating manufacturing capabilities, and in setting up supply and distribution chains that bring new innovations to consumers. These are necessary investments in translating original discoveries into useful commercial products.[20] Before 1980, the government effectively claimed ownership in inventions resulting from government-funded research, offering nonexclusive licenses to anyone requesting one; this undermined the commercialization of these inventions given the absence of property rights that are the legal platform for contracts and other commercial activities.[21] The Bayh-Dole Act corrected this mistaken policy by establishing that innovators can obtain patents for inventions arising from some government-funded research and retain ownership in these patents, which facilitates licensing and other commercial activities in the marketplace.[22]

Section 203 in the Patent Act, as enacted in the Bayh-Dole Act, creates the limited exception to this core function of the Bayh-Dole Act by creating the “march in right.”[23] To ensure commercialization of inventions arising from research funded by government agencies, § 203 authorizes a federal agency that has funded research that resulted in a patented invention “to grant a nonexclusive, partially exclusive, or exclusive license” under four specified conditions.[24] A federal agency may grant these licenses “to a responsible applicant” without authorization from the patent owner in four delimited circumstances: (1) if “the contractor or assignee has not taken, or is not expected to take within a reasonable time, effective steps to achieve practical application of the subject invention in such field of use,” (2) “to alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied,” (3) “requirements for public use specified by Federal regulations . . . are not reasonably satisfied,” or (4) “a licensee of the exclusive right to use or sell any subject invention in the United States is in breach of its agreement.”[25]

The statutory text of § 203 does not support the unprecedented inclusion of “reasonable price” as a criterion for any agency in imposing price controls on patented products or services produced by private companies and sold to private consumers in the marketplace. The four march-in conditions, set forth in § 203(a) in the disjunctive, constitute the only authorizations in this exemption in the Bayh-Dole Act for a federal agency to exercise the march-in power. Notably, there is no mention of “reasonable price” in the four authorizing conditions for a federal agency to invoke the march-in power to issue licenses without approval from a patent owner.

Congress would have expressly enacted text conferring a price-control power in § 203 if it intended a “reasonable price” to trigger use of the march-in power under § 203. Congress has enacted numerous statutes that have authorized officials or agencies to impose price controls on transactions in the marketplace.[26] The Emergency Price Control Act of 1942 is one such example.[27] Similarly, rate-regulation statutes enacted by the states according to their police powers expressly authorize legislators or regulators to set “prices” or determine “rates.”[28] Contrary to these price-control or rate-regulation statutes, § 203 is devoid of any archetypical pricing terms, such as “price,” “prices charged by an assignee or licensee,” “market price,” or “reasonable price.” According to the “the ordinary meaning of the words used” in § 203 and § 201(f) in the Bayh-Dole Act, the march-in power does not authorize licenses for the purpose of imposing price controls.[29]

Moreover, there is no catch-all clause in § 203 authorizing the march-in power for anything not already covered by the four specific march-in conditions. This is significant for at least two reasons. First, Congress knows how to create broadly framed and expansive authorizations for agency action, if this is its purpose. For example, Congress has expressly created broadly-framed authorizations of general administrative powers in other statutes, such as the well-known language in the Federal Communications Act of 1934 authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to grant radio transmission licenses according to whether the “public convenience, interest, or necessity will be served thereby.”[30] Second, the canon of statutory construction of expressio unius est exclusio alterius establishes that, without a catch-all clause, the march-in power is delimited to only these four express exemptions from the longstanding rights of patent owners covered by the Bayh-Dole Act to freely assign or license their property in the marketplace.[31] In sum, Congress chose not to create an open-ended grant of authority in § 203 in listing only four specific march-in conditions that strictly specify the narrow scope and application of the march-in power exemption in the Bayh-Dole Act, which comports with the general function of the Bayh-Dole Act in promoting private commercialization of patented innovations in the marketplace.

The inclusion of “reasonable price” as a criterion in the Guidance Framework follows the work of activists and academics who have argued for over two decades that the first condition in the march-in provision that specifies the failure “to achieve practical application” of an invention as a trigger for the march-in power means that that prices can prevent this “practical application” with consumers.[32] As is typical of modern legislation, the Bayh-Dole Act has a lengthy definition of “practical application” in which these advocates for this price-control theory of § 203 have focused on a single phrase (“available to the public on reasonable terms”).[33] These activists and academics have spun an entire theory of unprecedented and vast regulatory power to control prices in the marketplace of patented products and services based on only two general phrases in two separate sections of the Bayh-Dole Act—“practical application” and “reasonable terms.”

This price-control theory of § 203 is wrong as a matter of law and statutory interpretation. First, their argument creates vast administrative powers based on an out-of-context, laser-like focus on phrases that have been isolated from lengthy and complex statutory provisions. This commits the classic interpretative error of wooden textualism.[34] For example, these activists and academics do not acknowledge that “terms” is often a distinct legal concept from “price,” as these distinct words have been used in many legal instruments. In fact, statutes often distinguish between “price” and “terms” by listing these two words separately.[35]

These advocates for the price-control theory of § 203 also do not acknowledge that the partial definition of “practical application” in § 203(a)(1) as “reasonable terms” in § 201(f) in the Bayh-Dole Act follows past usage of “practical application,” which was understood to refer to the “successful development and terms of the license, not with a product’s price.”[36] For example, President John F. Kennedy issued a statement on patent policy in 1963 in which he proposed mandating licensing of government-owned inventions in order to achieve “practical application” of an invention and to “guard against failure to practice the invention.”[37]

Second, in interpreting a specific statutory provision or a specific clause within a statutory provision, the advocates for the price-control theory of § 203 violate fundamental legal rules governing the interpretation and application of statutes. Courts always inquire into “the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.”[38] The Supreme Court has bluntly stated in far too many cases to cite or quote: “We do not . . . construe statutory phrases in isolation; we read statutes as a whole.”[39] “Courts have a ‘duty to construe statutes, not isolated provisions.’”[40]

Congress stated its express intent in the Bayh-Dole Act: “It is the policy and objective of the Congress to use the patent system to promote the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research or development.”[41] The march-in power is an exemption from the function of the Bayh-Dole Act to stimulate universities and other researchers receiving federal research funds to obtain patents to utilize licenses in commercializing their inventions. In fact, this exemption was included in the Bayh-Dole Act precisely because it advanced this primary commercialization function of the statute: if a patented invention is not licensed or made available in the marketplace by its owner or licensees, then an agency is authorized to act to achieve this goal. Thus, § 203(a)(1)-(4) specifies four conditions in which the march-in power is justified, and these conditions identify situations in which inventions are not sold or commercialized in the marketplace.[42]

Lastly, the Guidance Framework’s lack of legal authorization in the Bayh-Dole Act is confirmed by Supreme Court precedent that agencies may not arrogate powers to themselves that are not specifically granted in statutes. An unprecedented power to impose price controls on all patented products or services produced and sold in the marketplace that were created from upstream research supported by some federal funding requires more than vague or generalized statutory terms like “effective steps to achieve practical application.” This is especially true given that Congress has consistently and repeatedly rejected bills that would impose compulsory licensing on U.S. patent owners, from the First Congress in 1790 up through the twentieth century.[43]

The Supreme Court has consistently instructed agencies that “Congress, we have held, does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions— it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes.”[44] The Supreme Court has rejected other agencies’ claims to regulatory authority under similarly vague and generalized terminology as the statutory phrase “practice application” in § 203, which has been the justification of the price-control power that the Guidance Framework implements. In these many other legal cases, the Supreme Court has stated bluntly that “‘Congress could not have intended to delegate’ such a sweeping and consequential authority ‘in so cryptic a fashion.’”[45] The Supreme Court again stated last year that it repeatedly “requires Congress to enact exceedingly clear language if it wishes to significantly alter . . . the power of the Government over private property.”[46] The Guidance Framework lacks a clear authorization in § 203 to justify its unprecedented inclusion of “reasonable price” as a criterion for authorizing the march-in power.

Agency Interpretations of § 203 Confirm It Does Not Authorize a Price-Control Power

The plain text of § 203 and its function within the Bayh-Dole Act as a whole explains why federal agencies—spanning bipartisan administrations over several decades—have repeatedly rejected numerous petitions to use the march-in power to impose price controls on drug patents. In 2016, the Congressional Research Service identified six petitions submitted to the NIH requesting it to exercise its march-in power solely for the purpose of lowering prices of patented drugs sold in the healthcare market.[47] The NIH denied all six petitions on the grounds that § 203, as confirmed by the NIH’s prior interpretation of this statutory provision, did not permit the march-in power to be used for the purpose of lowering drug prices.[48] By 2019, four more petitions had been filed with the NIH by policy organizations and activists, each requesting again that the NIH invoke the march-in power for the sole purpose of lowering drug prices.[49] As with the prior six petitions reaching back to the 1990s, the NIH rejected these petitions on the statutory ground that “the use of march-in to control drug prices was not within the scope and intent of its authority.”[50]

In 1997, for example, the NIH was petitioned to invoke the march-in power for the Isolex 300, a patented medical device used in organ transplant procedures.[51] The NIH rejected the petition for failing to meet the burden of proof that any of the four march-in conditions specified in § 203 had been triggered, authorizing the NIH to march in and license other companies to make and sell this medical device in the healthcare market. The NIH found that the Isolex 300 was being commercialized in the marketplace: the patent owner was actively licensing the patented device, seeking regulatory approval, and meeting research demands.[52] These facts precluded the triggering of the march-in power under the four authorizing conditions in § 203.

In rejecting this march-in petition, the NIH further explained why lowering prices on a medical device like the Isolex 300—imposing price controls on the healthcare market—was not justified by the plain text of § 203 and the function of the Bayh-Dole Act in promoting the commercialization of patented inventions. The NIH stated that, even if the petitioner proved that there would be greater accessibility and lower prices given additional licenses from the NIH invoking the march-in power, this rationale lacked authorization under § 203.[53] The NIH stated bluntly that the march-in power in § 203 did not exist for the purpose of “forced attempts to influence the marketplace.”[54] It acknowledged the contradiction between the Bayh-Dole Act’s primary function in promoting the commercialization of new innovations in the marketplace and adopting a march-in power for the purpose of imposing price controls, observing that “such actions may have far-reaching repercussions on many companies’ and investors’ future willingness to invest in federally funded medical technologies.”[55] This was not merely a freestanding policy assessment by the NIH of this petition; it derived this conclusion from the plain meaning of § 203 within the context of the Bayh-Dole Act and its commercialization function.

Another petition in 2004 again requested that the NIH invoke the march-in power in § 203 to license a patent specifically to lower the price for Norvir, a drug used to treat AIDS. Again, the NIH rejected the petition.[56] The NIH explained that “the extraordinary remedy of march-in is not an appropriate means of controlling prices,” and that “[t]he issue of drug pricing has global implications and, thus, is appropriately left for Congress to address legislatively.”[57] The NIH again rejected another march-in petition seeking to lower the price of Norvir in 2013, again stating that the imposition of price controls on drug patents was not a statutorily authorized march-in power in § 203 of the Bayh-Dole Act.[58] The NIH bluntly concluded: “As stated in previous march-in considerations the general issue of drug pricing is appropriately addressed through legislative and other remedies, not through the use of the NIH’s march-in authorities.”[59] The frustration by NIH officials with the serial petitions seeking to impose price controls on drug patents via the march-in provision in the Bayh-Dole Act is palpable.

Lastly, on March 21, 2023, the NIH rejected the latest petition (filed again) for this agency to invoke the march-in power solely to lower the price of Xtandi, a cancer drug covered by patent.[60] In its latest rejection of the price-control theory of the Bayh-Dole Act, the NIH reiterated that the “purpose of the Bayh-Dole Act is to promote commercialization and public availability of government-funded inventions.”[61] With this statutory framework and purpose in mind, the NIH expressly “found Xtandi to be widely available to the public on the market” and “[t]herefore, the patent owner, the University of California, does not fail the requirement of bringing Xtandi to practical application.”[62] The NIH further pointed out that this decision about Xtandi is consistent with its prior multiple rejections of march-in petitions also seeking to lower drug prices.[63] It also recognized that the administrative processes and delays, especially in light of Xtandi’s remaining patent term, led it to conclude that “NIH does not believe that use of the march-in authority would be an effective means of lowering the price of the drug.”[64]

The NIH’s multiple decisions over several decades in interpreting the scope of the march-in power granted to it under § 203 is significant evidence that the Bayh-Dole Act does not authorize NIST to include “reasonable price” as a criterion for agencies like the NIH to use the march-in power under § 203. The eleven or more decisions ranging from the 1990s through 2023 in which the NIH has consistently rejected march-in petitions requesting it impose price controls on drug patents under § 203 constitute “the well-reasoned views of the agencies implementing a statute [that] ‘constitute a body of experience and informed judgment to which courts and litigants may properly resort for guidance.’”[65]

Original Sponsors of the Bayh-Dole Act Stated Their Law Did Not Authorize Price Controls

The Guidance Framework’s inclusion of “reasonable price” as a criterion for applying the march-in power under § 203 is a statutory power that was allegedly discovered and argued for by two professors in a law journal article published more than two decades after the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act.[66] When they later published an op-ed advancing their article’s argument, Senator Birch Bayh and Senator Robert Dole responded by expressly rejecting their theory that the Bayh-Dole Act authorized price controls as an essential tool of the march-in power in § 203.

Professors Peter Arno and Michael Davis published an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2002 restating their argument from their law journal article the year before that the Bayh-Dole Act mandates that patented inventions resulting from “federal funds will be made available to the public at a reasonable price.”[67] Professors Arno and Davis’ op-ed prompted a response from Senators Bayh and Dole, published as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post two weeks later:

Bayh-Dole did not intend that government set prices on resulting products. The law makes no reference to a reasonable price that should be dictated by the government. . . . The [Arno and Davis] article also mischaracterizes the rights retained by the government under Bayh-Dole. The ability of the government to revoke a license granted under the act is not contingent on the pricing of the resulting product or tied to the profitability of a company that has commercialized a product that results in part from government-funded research. The law instructs the government to revoke such licenses only when the private industry collaborator has not successfully commercialized the invention as a product.[68]

Although this letter does not have the same legal status as the canons of statutory interpretation and official interpretation and application of a statute, Senators Bayh and Dole make clear that the inclusion of “reasonable price” as a criterion authorizing the march-in power is unconnected to the text or purpose of their statute. The proposed Guidance Framework, ultimately born of the price-control theory spawned by Professors Arno and Davis, is an unprecedented assertion of agency power to control prices in private market transactions without a legal basis in the Bayh-Dole Act.


The Guidance Framework proposes the addition of “reasonable price” as an unprecedented criterion for exercising the march-in powers specified in § 203 of the Bayh-Dole Act. This is a legally unjustified and unauthorized arrogation of power by NIST. The Bay-Dole Act does not state in its plain text a congressional authorization for federal agencies to consider “reasonable price” as a criterion for imposing price controls on all Bayh-Dole patented products or services that are commercialized in the marketplace. In addition to lack of authorization in the plain text of § 203, the Guidance Framework’s inclusion of “reasonable price” as a march-in criterion contradicts the function of Bayh-Dole in promoting the commercialization of inventions by patent owners in the marketplace. The NIH has consistently and repeatedly confirmed this lack of statutory authorization in § 203 to impose price controls across bipartisan administrations over several decades in rejecting all march-in petitions seeking to impose price controls.

NIST states in its RFI, “[t]o date, no agency has exercised its right to march-in,” but it fails to acknowledge the numerous, repeated rejections by the NIH of march-in petitions seeking to impose price controls on drug patents. NIST should follow these repeated actions by the NIH, including in its most recent rejection of the Xtandi march-in petition less than a year ago, in applying the clear text and function of the Bayh-Dole Act. Thus, NIST should withdraw the proposed Guidance Framework and permit the Bayh-Dole Act to function according to its intended function in promoting the commercialization of innumerable innovations in the marketplace.

[1] See National Institute of Standards and Technology, Request for Information Regarding the Draft Interagency Guidance Framework for Considering the Exercise of March-In Rights, 88 Fed. Reg. 85593 (Dec. 7, 2023).

[2] 88 Fed. Reg. 85593.

[3] Id. at 85598.

[4] Id. (emphasis added).

[5] See Pub. L. No. 77-421, 56 Stat. 23 (1942); see also Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-379, § 202, 84 Stat. 799, 799-800 (“The President is authorized to issue such orders and regulations as he may deem appropriate to stabilize prices, rents, wages, and salaries at levels not less than those prevailing on May 25, 1970.”); Housing and Rent Act of 1947, Pub. L. No. 129, 61 Stat. 193, 198 (imposing rent controls on existing structures set at levels permitted to be charged under the Economic Price Control Act of 1942).

[6] See, e.g., ROBERT P. MERGES, AMERICAN PATENT LAW: A BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC HISTORY (2023); JONATHAN M. BARNETT, INNOVATORS, FIRMS, AND MARKETS: THE ORGANIZATIONAL LOGIC OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (2021); DANIEL SPULBER, THE CASE FOR PATENTS (2021); B. ZORINA KHAN, INVENTING IDEAS: PATENTS, PRIZES, AND THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY (2020); Stephen Haber, Innovation, Not Manna from Heaven (Hoover Institution, Sep. 15, 2020); B. Zorina Khan, Trolls and Other Patent Inventions: Economic History and the Patent Controversy in the Twenty-First Century, 21 GEO. MASON L. REV. 825, 837-39 (2014); Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Kenneth L. Sokoloff & Dhanoos Sutthiphisal, Patent Alchemy: The Market for Technology in US History, 87 BUS. HIST. REV. 3 (Spring 2013); RONALD A. CASS & KEITH N. HYLTON, LAWS OF CREATION: PROPERTY RIGHTS IN THE WORLD OF IDEAS (2013).

[7] See generally MERGES, supra note 6; BARNETT, supra note 6; KHAN, supra note 6.

[8] See, e.g., Stephen Haber, Patents and the Wealth of Nations, 23 GEO. MASON L. REV. 811 (2016); Jonathan M. Barnett, Patent Tigers: The New Geography of Global Innovation, 2 CRITERION J. INNOVATION 429 (2017).

[9] See B. ZORINA KHAN, THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF INVENTION: PATENTS AND COPYRIGHTS IN AMERICAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, 1790–1920, at 9-10 (2005) (“[P]atents and . . . intellectual property rights facilitated market exchange, a process that assigned value, helped to mobilize capital, and improved the allocation of resources. . . . Extensive markets in patent rights allowed inventors to extract returns from their activities through licensing and assigning or selling their rights.”).

[10] See, e.g., Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Kenneth L. Sokoloff & Dhanoos Sutthiphisal, Patent Alchemy: The Market for Technology in US History, 87 BUS. HIST. REV. 3, 4–5 (2013).

[11] See Joan Farre-Mensa, et al., What Is a Patent Worth? Evidence from the U.S. Patent “Lottery,” 75 J. Finance 639 (2019),

[12] See Kevin Madigan & Adam Mossoff, Turning Gold to Lead: How Patent Eligibility Doctrine Is Undermining U.S. Leadership in Innovation, 24 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 939, 942-44 (2017).

[13] See Ross C. DeVol, Armen Bedroussian & Benjamin Yeo, The Global Biomedical Industry: Preserving U.S. Leadership 5 (Sep. 2011),

[14] Madigan & Mossoff, supra note 12, at 940-41.

[15] See Letter from Alden Abbott, Kristina M.L. Acri, et al. to Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, Nov. 30, 2022,, at 1-2 (detailing economic evidence); see also Alexander Galetovic, Stephen H. Haber & Ross Levine, An Empirical Examination of Patent Holdup, 11 J. COMP. L. & ECON. 549, 564-69 (2015), (finding quality-adjusted prices for devices and other products in the patent-intensive telecommunications market to have fallen at a faster rate as compared to other sectors of the innovation economy).

[16] See U.S. Investments in Medical and Health Research and Development 2013–2018, at 7 (Research America, 2019), (estimating total private investment in biopharmaceutical R&D in 2018 is estimated to be $129 billion). For each drug approved by the FDA for use by patients, there is on average $2.6 billion in R&D expenditures incurred over 10–15 years. See Joseph A. DiMasi, Henry G. Grabowski, & Ronald W. Hansen, Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Industry: New Estimates of R&D Costs, 47 J. Health Econ. 20 (2016).

[17] See U.S. Investments in Medical and Health Research and Development 2013–2018, supra note 17, at 8.

[18] See FACT SHEET: Biden-?Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Lower Health Care and Prescription Drug Costs by Promoting Competition (Dec. 7, 2023), (“Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing new actions to promote competition in health care and support lowering prescription drug costs for American families, including the release of a proposed framework for agencies on the exercise of march-in rights on taxpayer-funded drugs and other inventions, which specifies that price can be a factor in considering whether a drug is accessible to the public.”).

[19] See 88 Fed. Reg. 85601-85605 (detailing the eight scenarios in which the march-in power may be used by an agency).

[20] See generally BARNETT, supra note 6.

[21] See, e.g., S. Rep. No. 480, 96th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2 (1979) (explaining that the government’s policy of owning patents on inventions arising from government-funded research and offering nonexclusive licenses “has proven to be an ineffective policy” and that “the private sector simply needs more protection for the time and effort needed to develop and commercialize new products than is afforded by a nonexclusive license”).

[22] See id., at 28 (“It is essentially a waste of public money to have good inventions gathering dust on agencies’ shelves because of unattractiveness of nonexclusive licenses.”).

[23] See 35 U.S.C. § 203 (2011).

[24] § 203(a).

[25] § 203(a)(1)-(4).

[26] See, e.g., Economic Stabilization Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-379, § 202, 84 Stat. 799, 799-800 (“The President is authorized to issue such orders and regulations as he may deem appropriate to stabilize prices, rents, wages, and salaries at levels not less than those prevailing on May 25, 1970.”); Housing and Rent Act of 1947, Pub. L. No. 129, 61 Stat. 193, 198 (imposing rent controls on existing structures set at levels permitted to be charged under the Economic Price Control Act of 1942).

[27] See Pub. L. No. 77-421, 56 Stat. 23 (1942).

[28] See, e.g., Nebbia v. People of New York, 291 U.S. 502, 515 (1934) (“The Legislature of New York established by chapter 158 of the Laws of 1933, a Milk Control Board with power, among other things to ‘fix minimum and maximum … retail prices to be charged by … stores to consumers for consumption off the premises where sold.’”); Stone v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 116 U.S. 307, 308 (1886) (reviewing “the statute of Mississippi passed March 11, 1884, entitled ‘An act to provide for the regulation of freight and passenger rates on railroads in this state, and to create a commission to supervise the same, and for other purposes’”).

[29] INS v. Phinpathya, 464 U.S. 183, 189 (1984) (stating that “in all cases involving statutory construction, our starting point must be the language employed by Congress, . . . and we assume that the legislative purpose is expressed by the ordinary meaning of the words used”) (quotations and citations omitted).

[30] 47 U.S.C. § 307(a) (“The Commission, if public convenience, interest, or necessity will be served thereby, subject to the limitations of this Act, shall grant to any applicant therefor a station license provided for by this Act.”).

[31] See Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 188 (1976) (“In passing the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Congress was also aware of certain instances in which exceptions to the statute’s broad sweep would be necessary. Thus, § 10, 16 U.S.C. § 1539 (1976 ed.), creates a number of limited ‘hardship exemptions,’ . . . . meaning that under the maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius, we must presume that these were the only ‘hardship cases’ Congress intended to exempt.”); see also 73 Am. Jur. 2d Statutes § 129 (2002) (describing the statutory canon of interpretation, expressio unius est exclusio alterius).

[32] See, e.g., Letter from Amy Kapczynski, Aaron S. Kesselheim, et al. to Senator Elizabeth Warren, at 6-7 (Apr. 20, 2022),; Fran Quigley & Jennifer Penman, Better Late than Never: How the U.S. Government Can and Should Use Bayh-Dole March-In Rights to Respond to the Medicines Access Crisis, 54 WILLAMETTE L. REV. 171 (2017); Peter S. Arno & Michael H Davis, Why Don’t We Enforce Existing Drug Price Controls? The Unrecognized and Unenforced Reasonable Pricing Requirements Imposed upon Patents Deriving in Whole or in Part from Federally Funded Research, 75 TULANE L. REV. 631 (2001).

[33] See 35 U.S.C. § 201(f) (defining “practical application” to mean “to manufacture in the case of a composition or product, to practice in the case of a process or method, or to operate in the case of a machine or system; and, in each case, under such conditions as to establish that the invention is being utilized and that its benefits are to the extent permitted by law or Government regulations available to the public on reasonable terms”).

[34] See Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, 143 S. Ct. 1322, 1340 (2023) (“construing statutory language is not merely an exercise in ascertaining ‘the outer limits of a word’s definitional possibilities’”) (quoting FCC v. AT&T, 562 U.S. 397, 407 (2011)); cf. Antonin Scalia, Common-Law Courts in a Civil Law System: The Role of the United States Federal Courts in Interpreting the Constitution and Law, in A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION: FEDERAL COURTS AND THE LAW 23-24 (Amy Gutmann, ed., 1997) (critiquing out-of-context linguistic construction of statutory terms because a “good textualist is not a literalist”).

[35] See, e.g., 47 U.S.C. § 335(b)(3) (“A provider of direct broadcast satellite service shall meet the requirements of this subsection by making channel capacity available to national educational programming suppliers, upon reasonable prices, terms, and conditions, as determined by the Commission . . . .”) (emphasis added); 42 U.S.C. § 2375 (“The charges and terms for the transfer of any utility may be established by advertising and competitive bid, or by negotiated sale or other transfer at such prices, terms, and conditions as the Commission shall determine to be fair and equitable.”) (emphases added); 10 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(1) (“A contracting officer of the Department of Defense may not enter into an undefinitized contractual action unless the contractual action provides for agreement upon contractual terms, specifications, and price . . . .”) (emphasis added); 43 U.S.C. § 375c (“The Secretary is authorized to sell such land to resident farm owners or resident entrymen, on the project upon which such land is located, at prices not less than that fixed by independent appraisal approved by the Secretary, and upon such terms and at private sale or at public auction as he may prescribe . . . .”) (emphases added); 2 U.S.C. § 4103 (“[I]n any contract which is entered into by any person and either the Administrator of General Services or a contracting officer of any executive agency and under which such person agrees to sell or lease to the Federal Government (or any one or more entities thereof) any unit of property, supplies, or services at a specified price or under specified terms and conditions (or both), such person may sell or lease to the Congress the same type of such property, supplies, or services at a unit price or under terms and conditions (or both) . . . .”) (emphases added).

[36] Joseph Allen, New Study Shows Bayh-Dole is Working as Intended—and the Critics Howl, IPWATCHDOG (March 12, 2019),

[37] Government Patent Policy, Memorandum of Oct. 10, 1963, Fed. Reg. 10943 (Oct. 12, 1963).

[38] Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 340 (1997).

[39] Samantar v. Yousuf, 560 U.S. 305, 319 (2010) (quoting United States v. Morton, 467 U.S. 822, 828, (1984)).

[40] Graham Cty. Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. U.S. ex rel. Wilson, 559 U.S. 280, 290 (2010) (quoting Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561, 568 (1995)); see also Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243, 273 (2006) (stating that “statutes ‘should not be read as a series of unrelated and isolated provisions.’”) (quoting Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561, 570, (1995)); Food & Drug Admin. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 133 (2000) (“It is a ‘fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.’”) (quoting Davis v. Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 489 U.S. 803, 809 (1989)); Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Gaines, 3 F. 266, 276 (C.C.M.D. Tenn. 1880) (“Where the language [of a statute] is clear and explicit the court is bound . . . . It must be construed as a whole. The office of a good expositor, says My Lord Coke, ‘is to make construction on all its parts together.’”).

[41] 35 U.S.C. § 200.

[42] See supra notes 23-31, and accompanying text.

[43] See, e.g., Bruce W. Bugbee, Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law 143-44 (1967) (discussing the rejection of a Senate proposal for a compulsory licensing requirement in the bill that eventually became the Patent Act of 1790); Kali Murray, Constitutional Patent Law: Principles and Institutions, 93 Nebraska Law Review 901, 935-37 (2015) (discussing 1912 bill that imposed compulsory licensing on patent owners who are not manufacturing a patented invention, which received twenty-seven days of hearings, but was not enacted into law).

[44] Whitman v. Am. Trucking Associations, 531 U.S. 457, 468 (2001).

[45] See West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, 142 S. Ct. 2587, 2608 (2022) (quoting Food & Drug Admin. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 159 (2000)). See also MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 512 U.S. 218, 231 (1994) (“It is highly unlikely that Congress would leave the determination of whether an industry will be entirely, or even substantially, rate-regulated to agency discretion—and even more unlikely that it would achieve that through such a subtle device as permission to ‘modify’ rate-filing requirements.”).

[46] Sackett, 143 S. Ct. at 1341 (quoting United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Ass’n, 140 S. Ct. 1837, 1849-50 (2020)).

[47] See John R. Thomas, March-In Rights Under the Bayh-Dole Act 8-10 (Congressional Research Service, Aug. 22, 2016).

[48] Id.

[49] See Return on Investment Initiative for Unleashing American Innovation 29 (NIST Special Publication 1234, April 2019) (identifying 10 petitions to break patents through the march-in power in § 203 solely for the purpose of imposing price controls on drug patents).

[50] Id.

[51] See, e.g., NIH Office of the Director, Determination in the Case of Petition of CellPro, Inc. (Aug. 1, 1997), (rejecting petition in part to invoke march-in power given argument that company was too slow in bringing a medical device to market).

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Id. at 7.

[55] Id. at 7.

[56] See NIH Office of the Director, In the Case of Norvir Manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, Inc. (July 29, 2004),

[57] Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, Nat’l Institute of Health, Determination in the Case of Norvir I, at 5-6 (July 2, 2004).

[58] NIH Office of the Director, In the Case of Norvir Manufactured by AbbVie (Nov. 1, 2013),

[59] Id.

[60] See Letter from Lawrence A. Tabak, Performing the Duties of the NIH Director, to Robert Sachs and Clare Love (Mar. 23, 2023), (rejecting petition to impose price controls on Xtandi).

[61] Id. at 2.

[62] Id.

[63] Id.

[64] Id.

[65] See United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 227 (2001) (quoting Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624, 642 (1998) (quoting Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 140 (1944)))

[66] See Arno & Davis, supra note 32.

[67] See Peter Arno & Michael Davis, Paying Twice for the Same Drugs, Washington Post (March 27, 2002), (emphasis added).

[68] Birch Bayh and Robert Dole, Our Law Helps Patients Get New Drugs Sooner, Wash. Post (Apr. 11, 2002),

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Hands Off Bayh-Dole: Biden Administration Should Not Kill This ‘Golden Goose’ of Innovation

Popular Media Sometimes Congress does something right, and one example is the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. This bipartisan patent law is widely recognized as one of the great legislative . . .

Sometimes Congress does something right, and one example is the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. This bipartisan patent law is widely recognized as one of the great legislative achievements of the past 60 years. It has massively boosted innovation and economic growth by incentivizing researchers and universities to commercialize their new inventions by, paradoxically, removing them from public control by the government. The Biden administration has now announced a plan to twist this law to reimpose government control over these inventions in the form of price controls. This proposal would kill this “golden goose” of innovation.

Read the full piece here.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Amicus of ICLE and Law & Economics Scholars to the 2nd Circuit in Giordano v Saks

Amicus Brief INTEREST OF AMICI CURIAE[1] The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the . . .


The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy.  ICLE promotes the use of law and economics methodologies to inform public policy debates and has longstanding expertise in antitrust law.  ICLE has an interest in ensuring that antitrust promotes the public interest by remaining grounded in sensible legal rules informed by sound economic analysis.

Amici also include fifteen scholars of antitrust, law, and economics at leading universities and research institutions across the United States.  Their names, titles, and academic affiliations are listed in Appendix A.  All have longstanding expertise in antitrust law and economics.

Amici respectfully submit that this brief will aid the Court in reviewing the order of dismissal by explaining that the district court properly held, on the pleadings, that the restraint at issue is ancillary and thus that per se treatment is inappropriate.  The restraint furthers Saks’s procompetitive goal of creating a strong and stable luxury brand through collaboration with the Brand Defendants.  Treating such a restraint as per se unlawful, as Plaintiffs ask this Court to do, would stifle the type of legitimate cooperation that facilitates output and would ultimately harm consumers.  Amici also explain why Plaintiffs and several of their amici, including the United States, make foundational errors of law and economics in arguing that ancillarity is an affirmative defense that may not be resolved on the pleadings.


Saks and the Brand Defendants are well-known luxury retail brands.  As luxury retailers, their business models depend on developing and maintaining a distinct, exclusive brand to differentiate their products from the lower-priced goods sold by mass-market retailers.  A primary way in which they define and protect their brands is by cultivating a premium shopping experience for customers that promotes “an atmosphere of exclusivity and opulence surrounding . . . luxury products.”  Compl. ¶ 33.  To that end, Saks and the Brand Defendants have for years collaborated through “store-within-a-store” arrangements: Saks allows the Brand Defendants to set up boutiques and concessions within Saks’s stores, which in turn helps all involved grow their customer base, augment their luxury brand status, and sell more products.  This “store-within-a-store” model not only expands customer product choice within a single retail establishment, resulting in a better shopping experience, but also creates additional jobs at Brand Defendants’ concessions in Saks’s stores.

Plaintiffs allege that the Brand Defendants agree, as part of their respective partnerships with Saks, not to hire Saks’s own luxury retail employees without the approval of a Saks manager or until six months after the employee leaves Saks.  Plaintiffs argue that these alleged no-hire provisions violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The district court disagreed, concluding that the per se rule could not apply because the no-hire provisions were “ancillary” to a broader procompetitive collaboration between Saks and each of the Brand Defendants, and that Plaintiffs failed to plead a plausible claim under the rule of reason.  That decision is correct and should be affirmed.

First, the alleged no-hire agreements are ancillary to the arrangements between Saks and the Brand Defendants.  Saks invests heavily in its employees.  But without the no-hire provision, Saks would stand to lose those investments as the Brand Defendants could take advantage of their co-location within Saks’s stores to hire away Saks’s best workers, thereby free-riding on Saks’s training.  The alleged no-hire provisions eliminate that powerful economic disincentive and thereby facilitate brand-enhancing, procompetitive store-within-a-store arrangements.  That is all that is required for the agreements to be “ancillary.”  Plaintiffs’ (and their amici’s) insistence on a rigid two-prong test for ancillarity is not only at odds with economic logic but also out of step with this Circuit’s precedent—and, in any event, would not change the result here.

Second, the district court properly resolved ancillarity on the pleadings.  Ancillarity is a threshold inquiry decided at the earliest possible stage of a Section 1 case to determine whether the alleged facts justify departing from the default rule of reason standard.  That is precisely what the district court did here: based on Plaintiffs’ own allegations—including those regarding “a continual risk that the Brand Defendants would use their concessions in Saks stores to recruit employees” (Op. 32)—the district court ruled that the alleged restraints were ancillary and thus incompatible with per se condemnation.  Contrary to Plaintiffs’ argument, the district court did not improperly resolve any factual inferences.  The court considered the Complaint in its entirety and determined that Plaintiffs did not state a plausible per se claim, just as it was supposed to do before requiring the enormous expense that would result should this kind of “potentially massive factual controversy . . . proceed.”  Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007).


I.              The Alleged Restraints Are Ancillary To Procompetitive Collaboration

The per se rule is reserved for the most pernicious and anticompetitive restraints.  Before condemning a restraint as per se unlawful, therefore, courts must “have amassed considerable experience with the type of restraint at issue” and be able to “predict with confidence that it would be invalidated in all or almost all instances.”  NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141, 2156 (2021).  Reserving per se condemnation for that small category of restraints ensures that the antitrust laws do not inadvertently chill procompetitive conduct.  Ancillary restraints do not fit the per se mold because they have a “reasonable procompetitive justification, related to the efficiency-enhancing purposes of [a] joint venture.”  MLB Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 339 (2d Cir. 2008) (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment).

Here, any purported no-hire agreements form a key plank of the broader leasing, concession, and distribution arrangements between Saks and the Brand Defendants.  Op. 30-32.  It is beyond dispute that these agreements are procompetitive.  They not only enhance Saks’s and the Brand Defendants’ ability to vigorously compete against other retailers and luxury brands (i.e., increasing output in markets for luxury products) but also create jobs (i.e., increase output in labor markets).  That places the restraint far beyond the per se rule, MLB, 542 F.3d at 339 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment); only the rule of reason can be used to determine whether the restraint “stimulat[es] competition that [is] in the consumer’s best interest” or has “anticompetitive effect[s] that are harmful to the consumer.”  Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 886 (2007).[2]

                  A.            The Alleged No-Hire Agreements Are Facially Procompetitive

A restraint is ancillary where it “could have a procompetitive impact related to the efficiency-enhancing purposes” of a cooperative venture.  MLB, 542 F.3d at 340 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment); see Polk Bros., Inc. v. Forest City Enters., Inc., 776 F.2d 185, 188-89 (7th Cir. 1985) (restraint is ancillary if it “may contribute to the success of a cooperative venture that promises greater productivity and output”).  Where a restraint is deemed “ancillary to the legitimate and competitive purposes” of a venture, the restraint is presumptively “valid” and must be assessed under the rule of reason.  Texaco Inc. v. Dagher, 547 U.S. 1, 7 (2006).  There is a clear procompetitive rationale for the collaboration arrangement between Saks and the Brand Defendants: the arrangement allows customers to expand their choice in one-stop shopping, and the retailers to offer a wider range of high-end luxury goods.  And it creates a halo effect across the store-within-a-store through proximity and availability of multiple luxury brands.  All of this in turn promotes and enhances the luxury status of Saks and the Brand Defendants alike.  The alleged no-hire restraints enable and are ancillary to that larger endeavor.

As Plaintiffs allege, Defendants each derive much of their respective brand value from their ability to project a “luxury brand[] aura[],” which both entices customers and creates demand for Defendants’ goods “over other, lower-priced goods.”  Compl. ¶¶ 23, 26, 28.  For this reason, Defendants “go[] to great lengths to market” and otherwise “maintain[] their luxury brands’ auras.”  Id. ¶¶ 23, 26.  They “accomplish this feat,” in part, by ensuring that their brick-and-mortar stores provide a “luxury shopping experience[].”  Id. ¶ 27.  Defendants do that with sophisticated “décor and design” and premium “customer service” from skilled employees “who reflect their respective brand images and cultures.”  Id. ¶¶ 27-29.

Store-within-a-store arrangements further enhance the luxury brand shopping experience for both consumers and retailers.  In these arrangements, Saks allows the Brand Defendants to set up mini-stores or concessions within Saks’s large stores.  These arrangements, similar to those used by “[a]lmost all department store chains,” Kinshuk Jerath & Z. John Zhang, Store Within a Store, 47 J. Mktg. Rsch. 748, 748 (2010), are mutually beneficial and procompetitive.  The presence of the popular luxury brands helps draw brand-loyal customers into Saks, thus increasing foot traffic and broadening Saks’s customer reach—directly boosting sales output.  Compl. ¶ 28; see Jerath & Zhang, supra, at 756-57 (“The introduction of new products through stores within a store can bring new consumers to the store who want to purchase the focal product and also purchase other products.”).  The Brand Defendants benefit from access to Saks’s considerable customer base, Compl. ¶ 28, and their presence also makes possible cross-brand marketing opportunities.  Consumers benefit as well: they have access to a wider array of products, and have it all at hand in a single store.  And they have the benefit of workers highly trained with respect to the luxury goods they sell.  Id. ¶¶ 27-29, 32-34.

But there is a significant practical impediment to allowing stores-within-stores: employee raiding.  Saks invests heavily in its luxury retail employees, providing them with the “extensive training on service, selling, and product-knowledge” required to ensure that they are “knowledgeable about the particular products” for sale “as well as current trends.”  Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34.  Permitting the Brand Defendants to operate inside of Saks stores without restriction would put that investment in immediate danger.  The Brand Defendants would have every incentive to free-ride off of Saks’s investment, observing and hiring Saks’s highly trained luxury retail employees, thereby “tak[ing] advantage of the efforts [Saks] has expended in soliciting, interviewing, and training skilled labor” and “simultaneously inflicting a cost on [Saks] by removing an employee on whom [Saks] may depend.”  Id. ¶ 62.  This risk—and the mistrust it can create—disincentivizes the formation and maintenance of store-within-a-store agreements.

No-hire restraints solve this problem.  By imposing a narrow, time-limited, waivable restriction on the Brand Defendants’ ability to hire Saks employees, Compl. ¶ 92, the alleged no-hire agreements remove a roadblock from the “cooperation underlying the restraint,” which “has the potential to create the efficient production that consumers value,” Premier Elec. Constr. Co. v. Nat’l Elec. Contractors Ass’n, Inc., 814 F.2d 358, 370 (7th Cir. 1987).  In particular, the alleged no-hire restrictions help prevent free-riding by Brand Defendants on Saks’s training.  The agreement encourages Saks to invest in employee development, including by providing specific training on Brand Defendants’ products, and that investment enhances Saks’s ability to sell products from and compete against Brand Defendants’ stand-alone brick and mortar and online stores.  See, e.g., Gregory J. Werden, The Ancillary Restraints Doctrine After Dagher, 8 Sedona Conf. J. 17, 21 (2007).  “[W]ith the restraint,” Saks may “collaborate” with the Brand Defendants “for the benefit of its [customers] without ‘cutting [its] own throat.’”  Aya Healthcare Servs., Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., 9 F.4th 1102, 1110-11 (9th Cir. 2021) (quoting Polk Bros., 776 F.2d at 189).  As a result, the alleged no-hire restraints are “at least potentially reasonably ancillary to joint, efficiency-creating economic activities.”  Phillips v. Vandygriff, 711 F.2d 1217, 1229 (5th Cir. 1983); cf. Eichorn v. AT&T Corp., 248 F.3d 131, 146-47 (3d Cir. 2001) (“As an ancillary covenant not to compete, the no-hire agreement was reasonable in its restrictions on the plaintiffs’ ability to seek employment elsewhere.”).

The contrary conclusion—that the alleged no-hire restraints are not ancillary—risks stifling competition across the retail economy.  No-hire agreements are merely one of the many ancillary contractual restraints commonly used in store-within-a-store partnerships (exemplified by, for instance, the well-known collaborations between Target and Starbucks or Best Buy and Samsung) to preserve brand integrity, guard against misuse of store space, and safeguard investments in specialized training.  By solving for risks such as employee raiding or damage to property, these restrictions instill confidence in both parties, facilitating the creation of these cooperative ventures in the first place.  Categorizing the alleged no-hire provisions here as per se unlawful could chill a whole spectrum of reasonable ancillary restraints, undermining the careful balance that store-within-a-store arrangements aim to maintain and inhibiting market innovation.  That would be bad for potential employees, who would lose the opportunity to work at stores-within-stores, as well as for consumers, who would lose the convenient access to goods in-store concessions provide.

                   B.            The Rigid Two-Prong Test Advanced By Plaintiffs And Their Amici Is Not The Law, And The Alleged Restraints Here Satisfy It In Any Event

Plaintiffs and their amici resist ancillarity by, in part, insisting upon application of a strict and formalistic test not found in the law of this Circuit or any other.  In their view, an ancillary restraint must be both (1) “subordinate and collateral to a separate legitimate transaction” and (2) “reasonably necessary to achiev[e] that transaction’s procompetitive purpose.”  AOB 34-35.  This rigid two-step test is not the law in this Circuit.  But even if it were, Plaintiffs and amici misconstrue the second prong, improperly transforming it into a strict necessity standard that no circuit has adopted.  Consistent with their evident procompetitive potential, the alleged restraints here amply satisfy the actual test.

Although some courts have moved toward a delineated two-prong standard, this Court has not.  This Court’s leading opinion on ancillarity is then-Judge Sotomayor’s influential concurrence in MLB, in which she observed that a restraint is ancillary where it is “reasonably necessary to achieve any of the efficiency-enhancing benefits of a joint venture.”  542 F.3d at 338 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment).  She noted no other requirements, invoking Judge Easterbrook’s similar formulation in Polk Bros. that a restraint is ancillary where it “may contribute to the success of a cooperative venture that promises greater productivity and output.”  Id.; Polk Bros., 776 F.2d at 189; see Rothery Storage & Van Co. v. Atlas Van Lines, Inc., 792 F.2d 210, 229 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (restraint is ancillary when it “appears capable of enhancing the group’s efficiency”).  That approach in turn traces all the way to then-Judge Taft’s seminal United States v. Addyston Pipe & Steel Co. decision, which assessed ancillarity using this same flexible formulation.  See 85 F. 271, 281 (6th Cir. 1898).

Even if the two-prong test advanced by Plaintiffs and their amici did apply, however, they misconstrue the second prong by paying only lip service to a “reasonably necessary” standard and in reality asking this Court to impose a “strictly necessary” test.  Instead of asking whether the restraint “promoted enterprise and productivity”—which is all that is required for a restraint to be “reasonably necessary,” Aya, 9 F.4th at 1110-11—Plaintiffs would require Defendants to show that the “restraint [is] necessary to achieve the business relationship,” AOB 36, such that in its absence, “Saks would terminate or . . . alter its purported collaborative relationships,” NY Br. 29.

No court of appeals has embraced this strict-necessity standard.  In Medical Center at Elizabeth Place, LLC v. Atrium Health System, for instance, the Sixth Circuit considered and rejected it, holding that requiring a defendant to show that a restraint “is necessary” is “too high a standard to determine what qualifies as ‘reasonable.’”  922 F.3d 713, 725 (6th Cir. 2019); see also id. at 726 (observing Judge Sotomayor’s MLB concurrence “categorically rejected” a strict necessity test).  Rather, an ancillary restraint “need not be essential, but rather only reasonably ancillary to the legitimate cooperative aspects of the venture” because “there exists a plausible procompetitive rationale for the restraint.”  Id. (quotation marks omitted).  The Ninth Circuit similarly rejected the United States’ attempt to advance this standard, and instead held in Aya that a no-hire restraint was “properly characterized as ancillary” where it “promoted enterprise and productivity at the time it was adopted.”  9 F.4th at 1111.  And the United States and a different set of plaintiffs recently argued for a strict-necessity test in the Seventh Circuit.  See Br. for the U.S. and the FTC as Amici Curiae Supporting Neither Party at 26, Deslandes v. McDonald’s USA, LLC, Nos. 22-2333 & 22-2334 (7th Cir. Nov. 9, 2022) (arguing no-hire agreement was not ancillary because it “was not necessary to encourage franchisees to sign” franchising agreements).  The panel declined to adopt it, adhering instead to the Polk Bros. test.  See Deslandes v. McDonald’s USA, LLC, 81 F.4th 699, 703 (7th Cir. 2023).

All of these decisions make sense.  The per se rule applies only when a challenged restraint is obviously and clearly anticompetitive, and a restraint that is plausibly part of a procompetitive venture should be judged by “the facts peculiar to the business to which the restraint is applied.”  Bd. of Trade of Chi. v. United States, 246 U.S. 231, 238 (1918).  A contrary decision would discourage competition; strict necessity is not only an unrealistic requirement, as businesses make these decisions ex ante, but also would require them to constantly recalibrate their policies.  The result would be that firms forego potentially procompetitive collaborations, chilling innovative policies and business models.  See Werden, supra, at 23-24 (comprehensive analysis by DOJ economist rejecting strict-necessity test).

Nor is there any legal or logical basis for Plaintiffs’ made-up “tailor[ing]” prong—that a “restraint must be ‘tailored’ to a legitimate objective to qualify as ancillary.”  AOB 35.  Courts routinely reject any “reasonabl[e] tailor[ing]” requirement, because that phrase would not “carr[y] a materially different meaning than ‘reasonably necessary’” and because a restraint “need not satisfy a less-restrictive-means test.”  Aya, 9 F.4th at 1111 & n.5.  A tailoring analysis can be part of the rule-of-reason framework employed after a restraint is deemed ancillary, but it has no role in the ancillarity inquiry itself, which evaluates whether a restraint “should be reviewed under the rule of reason” in the first place.  MLB, 542 F.3d at 341 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment).  The flaw in Plaintiffs’ argument is underscored by the only case they cite to support their purported tailoring requirement, which did not even involve ancillarity, but instead analyzed whether there was a less restrictive alternative under the rule of reason.  See NCAA v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 468 U.S. 85, 117 (1984); see also Aya, 9 F.4th at 1111 (“[T]he less restrictive alternative analysis falls within the rule-of-reason analysis, not the ancillary restraint consideration.”).

Properly interpreted to require only “reasonable necessity,” the two-prong test is satisfied here on the face of the Complaint.  The alleged restraint is “subordinate and collateral” to a broader venture in which Saks permits the Brand Defendants to “sell their goods and apparel” with Saks’s stores.  Compl. ¶ 21.  Although the United States argues that the Complaint “contains no allegations of any connection . . . between the alleged conspiracy and those business relationships,” U.S. Br. 15-16, that is not correct: the Brand Defendants operate “concessions at Saks stores,” Compl. ¶ 21, and Saks employees receive brand-specific training, id. ¶ 160.  As the district court held, Op. 34 n.22, the alleged restraint prevented the Brand Defendants from hiring Saks employees who sold the Brand Defendants’ merchandise, thereby protecting Saks’s training investments, see Compl. ¶¶ 156-61, 187-91, increasing the attractiveness of the broader collaboration, and promoting mutual trust between the parties, see Rothery Storage, 792 F.2d at 224 (restraint that “serves to make the main transaction more effective in accomplishing its purpose” is “subordinate and collateral”).

Plaintiff Susan Giordano’s allegations about her own experience demonstrate that this alleged restraint is ancillary.  Giordano was a Saks employee at Saks’s Loro Piana boutique for “18 months,” during which time she became “familiar[] with Loro Piana’s . . . merchandise.”  Compl. ¶¶ 157, 160.  Giordano sought employment at a standalone Loro Piana boutique, explaining that she “would surely be an asset” because of her familiarity with Loro Piana’s product gained from Saks’s training.  Id. ¶¶ 156-61.  But the no-hire restraint allegedly prevented Loro Piana from hiring Giordano, id. ¶ 161, “ensur[ing] that [Saks] [did] not lose its personnel during the collaboration” with Brand Defendants, Aya, 9 F.4th at 1110.  Courts have found just these sorts of no-hire agreements to facilitate “procompetitive collaboration” to be “reasonably necessary.”  Id.; cf. Bogan v. Hodgkins, 166 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 1999) (rejecting per se treatment for no-hire agreements).

The United States’ arguments to the contrary are unavailing.  It argues that the alleged no-hire agreements go beyond solicitation at the concessions themselves, barring the Brand Defendants from hiring even Saks employees who independently apply or approach the Brand Defendants for a job.  U.S. Br. 19.  But the no-hire agreements’ purpose, to protect against risks that employees would leave for a collaborating brand located inside their own store, applies equally regardless of whether an employee is solicited by or independently approaches a competitor.  In both instances, Saks invested in brand-specific employee training, see Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34, 156, that the no-hire agreement protects from the unique exposure of a store-within-a-store.

The United States also suggests that the restraint is not reasonably necessary because it applies to “any brand [or designer company] carried by Saks” rather than just brands that maintain concession stands.  U.S. Br. 16, 19.  But a restraint “need not satisfy a less-restrictive-means test,” Aya, 9 F.4th at 1111; regardless, Saks employees receive detailed training on all luxury brands sold in the stores, even those that do not maintain concession stands, see Compl. ¶ 34.  The alleged no-hire agreement notably does not extend to the many luxury brands whose goods are not “carried by Saks,” id. ¶ 175, leaving Saks employees free to take their talents to those competing employers or to other retailers of luxury goods.  And the United States’ suggestion that the duration of the agreement is too long, U.S. Br. 19, ignores that employees receive continuous training to remain “knowledgeable about the particular products [sold] . . . as well as current trends,” Compl. ¶ 34 (emphasis added).  If employees could leave their employment with Saks and immediately join the competitor, then the alleged restraint would have no effect at all, and Saks would lose the incentive to invest in ongoing specialized training regarding competitor brands.

II.            The District Court Properly Decided Ancillarity On The Pleadings

Nothing in the antitrust laws prohibits a district court from resolving ancillarity on the pleadings, and the court’s decision to do so here was procedurally proper and analytically sound.  Determining whether a challenged restraint is “naked” or “ancillary” is a threshold inquiry for a Section 1 claim because “[t]his all-important classification largely determines the course of subsequent legal evaluation of [the] restraint.”  Phillip E. Areeda & Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law: An Analysis of Antitrust Principles and Their Application, ¶ 1904 (5th ed., 2023 Cum. Supp.).  Put another way, resolving ancillarity at the outset of the case dictates the mode of analysis employed by the court: naked restraints are subject to per se treatment, while ancillary restraints are analyzed under the rule of reason.

This does not mean that ancillarity must be resolved at the pleadings—depending on the circumstances, it may be resolved after the pleadings but before summary judgment, at summary judgment, or even at trial.  See In re HIV Antitrust Litig., 2023 WL 3088218, at *23 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 17, 2023) (summary judgment); N. Jackson Pharmacy, Inc. v. Caremark RX, Inc., 385 F. Supp. 2d 740, 743 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (pre-summary judgment Rule 16 motion).  Rather, ancillarity is a threshold issue that sets the stage for the analysis that follows, and deciding it at the pleadings stage permits defendants to defeat meritless claims before undergoing costly discovery.

The district court properly resolved the question on a motion to dismiss here because Plaintiffs’ own allegations made clear that the alleged no-hire agreements were ancillary.  Plaintiffs and their amici make two arguments: first, that ancillarity cannot be resolved on the pleadings, and second, that the district court improperly resolved facts in Defendants’ favor.  Neither argument persuades.

                  A.            Ancillarity Is A Threshold Inquiry, Not An Affirmative Defense

Courts analyzing Section 1 claims must first determine the proper framework to apply: the per se rule or the rule of reason (or, in some cases, an abbreviated “quick look” analysis).  See Leegin, 551 U.S. at 886-87.  To make that determination, “[a] court must distinguish between ‘naked’ restraints, those in which the restriction on competition is unaccompanied by new production or products, and ‘ancillary’ restraints, those that are part of a larger endeavor whose success they promote.”  MLB, 542 F.3d at 339 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment) (quoting Polk Bros., 776 F.2d at 188).  “This all-important classification largely determines the course of subsequent legal evaluation of any restraint.”  Areeda & Hovenkamp, supra, ¶ 1904; see Thomas B. Nachbar, Less Restrictive Alternatives and the Ancillary Restraints Doctrine, 45 Seattle U. L. Rev. 587, 634 (2022) (“In order to do any real work, the ancillary restraints doctrine has to precede the rule of reason.”); Herbert Hovenkamp, The Rule of Reason, 70 Fla. L. Rev. 81, 140 (2018) (“The ancillary restraints doctrine is not a comprehensive method for applying the rule of reason, but rather an early stage decision about which mode of analysis should be applied.”).  Thus, ancillarity is a gating inquiry.  By determining at the outset of the case whether a challenged restraint is naked or ancillary, the court ensures it applies the proper analytical framework.

Because this determination guides how the parties conduct discovery and try the case, it is important to decide ancillarity at the earliest possible stage.  This avoids “expensive pretrial discovery” on the wrong questions and issues.  And it avoids discovery altogether in cases that do not state a claim and should never proceed past the pleadings.  Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Vill. of Lemont, 520 F.3d 797, 803 (7th Cir. 2008) (noting importance of carefully evaluating antitrust claims at pleading stage “lest a defendant be forced to conduct expensive pretrial discovery in order to demonstrate the groundlessness of the plaintiff’s claim” (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558-59 (2007))).

Treating ancillarity as a gating inquiry also is consistent with the Supreme Court’s admonition that per se treatment must be confined to a narrow class of cases.  As the Court has explained, “the per se rule is appropriate only after courts have had considerable experience with the type of restraint at issue and only if courts can predict with confidence that it would be invalidated” under the rule of reason.  Leegin, 551 U.S. at 886-87; Dagher, 547 U.S. at 5 (“Per se liability is reserved for only those agreements that are so plainly anticompetitive that no elaborate study of the industry is needed to establish their illegality.” (quotation marks omitted)).  That predictive confidence must be rooted in the “demonstrable economic effect” of the restraint at issue, not a plaintiff’s suspicion that the restraint is harmful.  Leegin, 551 U.S. at 887.  This is a high bar.  Only when a restraint is “so obviously lacking in any redeeming pro-competitive values” may courts apply the per se rule.  Cap. Imaging Assocs., P.C. v. Mohawk Valley Med. Assocs., Inc., 996 F.2d 537, 542 (2d Cir. 1993).

Because per se analysis is warranted only when justified by “demonstrable economic effect,” resolving the issue of ancillarity on the pleadings ensures that plaintiffs cannot invoke per se treatment on mere say-so.  The ancillarity inquiry, by definition, considers the relationship of the challenged restraint to the parties’ business collaboration—that is, the inquiry explores the likely “economic effect” of the restraint within the context of commercial realities.  That is precisely what the Supreme Court requires before expanding the per se rule into new frontiers.  Broad. Music, Inc. v. Columbia Broad. Sys., Inc., 441 U.S. 1, 19 n.33 (1979) (“[T]he per se rule is not employed until after considerable experience with the type of challenged restraint.”); Bogan, 166 F.3d at 514 (“The Supreme Court is slow to . . . extend per se analysis to restraints imposed in the context of business relationships where the economic impact of certain practices is not immediately obvious.” (quotation marks omitted)).

If ancillarity could be resolved only after the pleadings stage, as Plaintiffs and their amici urge, then a Section 1 plaintiff could survive dismissal simply by invoking the per se rule without regard for the restraint’s “economic effect” or the courts’ ability to “predict with confidence that [the restraint] would be invalidated.”  Leegin, 551 U.S. at 886-87.  A simple example underscores the absurdity of that rule: ever since they were recognized in Addyston Pipe as axiomatic ancillary restraints, no-hire provisions are commonly included in agreements for the sale of a business.  The approach proposed would require litigation through discovery to decide if such a provision were ancillary.

Moreover, neither the federal courts nor the academy have amassed sufficient experience with this subject to allow default per se treatment.  Indeed, the only study that attempted to analyze the relevant economic considerations in a systematic way concluded that eliminating no-hire provisions “causes minimal reductions in job concentration and no increase in wages.”  Daniel S. Levy et al., No-Poaching Clauses, Job Concentration and Wages: A Natural Experiment Generated by a State Attorney General, Advanced Analytical Consulting Group, Inc., at 1 (Jan. 23, 2020).  That inconclusive literature falls far short of justifying a rule that would effectively extend per se treatment to all no-hire agreements.

If anything, the economic incentives weigh strongly in favor of deciding ancillarity at the earliest possible stage allowed by the record.  This is because a rule prohibiting courts from deciding ancillarity at the pleadings stage would be a free pass to discovery (and the “potentially enormous expense” associated with it), which would “push cost-conscious defendants to settle even anemic [Section 1] cases.”  Twombly, 550 U.S. at 559.  That pressure, in turn, would distort normal business incentives—faced with the prospect of huge discovery costs from meritless claims, rational businesses would understandably refrain from entering into legitimate, procompetitive collaborations.  Plaintiffs and their amici offer no good reason for adopting a rule that would undercut the very efficiency-enhancing purposes antitrust law is meant to advance.  See Morrison v. Murray Biscuit Co., 797 F.2d 1430, 1437 (7th Cir. 1986) (“The purpose of antitrust law, at least as articulated in the modern cases, is to protect the competitive process as a means of promoting economic efficiency.”); see also MLB, 542 F.3d at 339 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment) (restraints do not receive per se treatment when they have a “reasonable procompetitive justification, related to the efficiency-enhancing purposes of [a] joint venture”).

The United States asserts that ancillarity is only a “defense” to per se illegality, rather than a threshold inquiry to determine whether a case calls for departing from the rule of reason.  U.S. Br. 12-13.  None of the United States’ cases, however, limit the ancillarity restraints doctrine in this way.  The lone Second Circuit case the United States cites was a criminal matter where the standard applied to motions to dismiss is far more lenient and deferential to the United States than that mandated for civil cases in Twombly.  In such cases, courts treat the government’s characterization of conduct as within the four corners of a recognized per se theory as sufficient for indictment purposes.  See United States v. Aiyer, 33 F.4th 97, 116 (2d Cir. 2022) (indictments need only “contain[] the elements of the offense charged” and enable defendant to enter plea).  Moreover, in that case, the defendant had not even challenged on appeal the district court’s conclusion that the indictment at issue adequately alleged a per se antitrust violation.  See id. at 116-23.  The panel never characterized ancillarity as a “defense.”  See id.

The same goes for Blackburn and Board of Regents.  Although the courts in those cases ultimately concluded the restraints at issue were not ancillary, neither case held that ancillarity was only a defense.  Blackburn v. Sweeney, 53 F.3d 825, 828-29 (7th Cir. 1995); Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Okla. v. NCAA, 707 F.2d 1147, 1153-56 (10th Cir. 1983).  Freeman is similarly off base.  While the court there offhandedly referred to the defendant’s overall argument against the antitrust claim as a “defense,” it did so after the ancillarity discussion.  Freeman v. San Diego Ass’n of Realtors, 322 F.3d 1133, 1151-52 (9th Cir. 2003).  The court did not use the term with specific reference to ancillarity, and in any event its use of “defense” was not meant in the same way that Plaintiffs and their amici use it—that is, as an issue that cannot be resolved at the outset of the case.  AOB 39; U.S. Br. 12-13, 15.  In short, none of the government’s cases hold that ancillarity is strictly a defense or is otherwise immune from resolution on the pleadings.

The Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Deslandes doesn’t advance the government’s cause either.  Although the court in Deslandes summarily stated that “the classification of a restraint as ancillary is a defense,” 81 F.4th at 705, plaintiffs can plead themselves out of court, Hadid v. City of New York, 730 F. App’x 68, 71 (2d Cir. 2018), which is what Plaintiffs have done here.  Nor should it be followed: the Seventh Circuit cited no case law and offered no analysis to support its bald assertion.  Deslandes, 81 F.4th at 705.  And, as explained, any suggestion that ancillarity can be treated only as a defense would undo the clear demarcation between the rule of reason and per se treatment.  If courts can’t evaluate ancillarity at the outset, restraints that should be presumptively analyzed under the rule of reason would instead be presumptively treated as per se illegal.  That result is plainly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s antitrust precedents.

In a related argument, Plaintiffs contend that ancillarity cannot be decided on the pleadings, but instead “requires discovery.”  AOB 39.  But that also is wrong.  “In considering a motion to dismiss, the court is not required to don blinders and to ignore commercial reality.”  Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1110 (7th Cir. 1984), abrogated on other grounds by Schmees v. HC1.COM, Inc., 77 F.4th 483 (7th Cir. 2023).  Consistent with this principle, courts routinely resolve ancillarity on the pleadings where it is clear from the complaint that the restraint may be procompetitive.  For example, in Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. v. Schlumberger Technology Corp., the court dismissed a restraint of trade claim at the pleading stage where “the pleadings in [the] case [made] clear” that the challenged non-solicitation provision was “ancillary” to “a larger business transaction between two independent parties.”  2017 WL 6597512, at *4 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 26, 2017).  Similarly, the court in Gerlinger v. Amazon.Com, Inc. determined that a purported price-fixing arrangement between Borders and Amazon was “ancillary” to the companies’ broader website hosting agreement, in part because the “context in which the agreement was entered into” confirmed its procompetitive potential.  311 F. Supp. 2d 838, 848-49 (N.D. Cal. 2004).  The court reached this conclusion on a motion for judgment on the pleadings.  Id.  Other courts have similarly decided ancillarity on the pleadings alone.  See Kelsey K. v. NFL Enters. LLC, 2017 WL 3115169, at *4 (N.D. Cal. July 21, 2017) (motion to amend), aff’d, 757 F. App’x 524, 526 (9th Cir. 2018); Hanger v. Berkley Grp., Inc., 2015 WL 3439255, at *5 (W.D. Va. May 28, 2015) (motion to dismiss); Caudill v. Lancaster Bingo Co., 2005 WL 2738930, at *3-6 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 4, 2005) (motion for judgment on the pleadings).  Contrary to Plaintiffs’ argument, the district court’s pleading-stage ancillarity ruling was entirely proper.

                   B.            The District Court Did Not Reach Past Plaintiffs’ Allegations

Ancillarity can support dismissal when it is “apparent from the allegations in the complaint,” as even the United States acknowledges.  U.S. Br. 15.  Here, the district court’s ancillarity ruling was amply supported by Plaintiffs’ own allegations.  Plaintiffs allege that Saks and the Brand Defendants collaborate in the sale of luxury goods by partnering to sell the Brand Defendants’ goods both directly at Saks stores and through concessions within them.  Compl. ¶¶ 21, 28; see supra, at 4-10.  By cooperating in this way, Saks and the Brand Defendants can leverage each other’s employees and brands to create a distinct “shopping experience for customers”—that is, the “atmosphere of exclusivity and opulence surrounding . . . luxury products,” Compl. ¶ 33, needed to promote “demand for[] luxury goods over other, lower-priced goods,” id. ¶ 23.  The upshot is a procompetitive collaboration that, in the words of Polk Bros., “promises greater productivity and output.”  776 F.2d at 189.

The district court also properly relied on the Complaint to conclude that “absent the no-hire agreement, there would be a continual risk that the Brand Defendants would use their concessions in Saks stores to recruit [Saks] employees.”  Op. 32 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 56-57, 83).  Minimizing the risk of such “free rid[ing]” is a common, efficiency-enhancing feature of ancillary restraints.  Rothery Storage, 792 F.2d at 229 (restraints were ancillary where they “preserve[d] the efficiencies of the [collaboration] by eliminating the problem of the free ride”); Polk Bros., 776 F.2d at 190 (agreement was ancillary to a joint sales venture where it limited the potential that one retailer would free ride on the sales efforts of another).  That includes procompetitive restraints on employee movement.  Aya, 9 F.4th at 1110 (restraint was ancillary to business collaboration where it guarded against risk of one party “proactively raiding . . . employees” of another party).

Notably, the risk of free riding wasn’t hypothetical: as the district court pointed out, the Complaint specifically alleges that Plaintiff Giordano sought to leverage the experience she acquired while working at the Loro Piana boutique as a Saks employee to seek employment with Loro Piana.  Op. 34 n.22.  The district court also highlighted Plaintiffs’ allegations that without the no-hire agreements, Brand Defendants such as Louis Vuitton could “take advantage” of Saks’s hiring efforts by recruiting Saks employees away from Saks after that company had already invested time and money to recruit and train its personnel.  Op. 32; Compl. ¶¶ 62-63; see Compl. ¶ 53 (alleging that “a Defendant would save on training costs and receive the immediate benefit of a well-trained, motivated salesperson” by hiring “from one of its rivals”).  This poaching, according to Plaintiffs, would “inflict[] a cost on [Saks] by removing an employee on whom [Saks] may depend.”  Compl. ¶ 62.  Thus, Plaintiffs’ own allegations demonstrate the alleged no-hire agreement is ancillary.  By addressing the free-rider problem, the agreement eliminates an externality “that may otherwise distort the incentives of [the Brand Defendants] and limit the potential efficiency gains of [the collaboration].”  MLB, 542 F.3d at 340 (Sotomayor, J., concurring in the judgment).  Nothing more was required to resolve ancillarity on the pleadings.

Plaintiffs and their amici argue the district court erred by drawing factual inferences in favor of Saks, rather than Plaintiffs.  AOB 37-40; N.Y. Br. 26-27.  According to Plaintiffs, ancillarity was a “contested factual issue” that could be resolved in Saks’s favor only by improperly rejecting Plaintiffs’ allegations.  AOB 37-38.  Plaintiffs’ argument is misplaced.

“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”  Jessani v. Monini N. Am., Inc., 744 F. App’x 18, 19 (2d Cir. 2018) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).  As part of that exercise, courts consider “a host of considerations: the full factual picture presented by the complaint, the particular cause of action and its elements, and the existence of alternative explanations so obvious that they render plaintiff’s inferences unreasonable.”  Fink v. Time Warner Cable, 714 F.3d 739, 741 (2d Cir. 2013); see Boca Raton Firefighters & Police Pension Fund v. Bahash, 506 F. App’x 32, 35 (2d Cir. 2012).

That is precisely what the district court did here.  It considered the “full factual picture presented by the complaint”—including the nature of the Defendants’ business relationship and the role of the no-hire agreement in the context of that relationship—to conclude that the alleged no-hire agreement was ancillary to a procompetitive collaboration.  Fink, 714 F.3d at 741 (emphasis added); Op. 28-34.  And in doing so, the court properly demonstrated that Plaintiffs’ own allegations precluded per se treatment.  See Weisbuch v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 119 F.3d 778, 783 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997) (“Whether [a] case can be dismissed on the pleadings depends on what the pleadings say.”).  Plaintiffs can’t avoid the consequences of their allegations by truncating the court’s properly holistic review of the pleadings—indeed, “[i]f the pleadings establish facts compelling a decision one way, that is as good as if depositions and other expensively obtained evidence on summary judgment establishes the identical facts.”  Id.

The district court’s ancillarity ruling was sound.


For the foregoing reasons, this Court should affirm.

[1] All parties have consented to the filing of this brief.  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 29(a)(4)(E), counsel for ICLE represents that no counsel for any of the parties authored any portion of this brief and that no entity, other than amici curiae or their counsel, monetarily contributed to the preparation or submission of this brief.

[2] The alleged no-hire agreements also do not fit the per se mold because they are part of a dual-distribution relation in which the Brand Defendants sell their products to end consumers through “their own standalone boutiques” as well as through distributors, “including Saks.”  Compl. ¶ 21; see Beyer Farms, Inc. v. Elmhurst Dairy, Inc., 35 F. App’x 29, 29-30 (2d Cir. 2002) (holding that a restraint was “subject to scrutiny under the ‘rule of reason’” because the complaint alleged a “dual-distributorship relationship”); Elecs. Commc’ns Corp. v. Toshiba Am. Consumer Prods., Inc., 129 F.3d 240, 243 (2d Cir. 1997) (similar).

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Letter to Chairs and Ranking Members of House Ways and Means and Senate HELP Committees on Prescription Drug Price Controls

Written Testimonies & Filings Dear Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Cassidy, Chairman Smith, and Ranking Member Neal: As former judges, former government officials, and scholars who are experts in patent . . .

Dear Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Cassidy, Chairman Smith, and Ranking Member Neal:

As former judges, former government officials, and scholars who are experts in patent law, healthcare policy, or both, we write to express our concerns about lobbying efforts for the government to impose price controls on patented drugs. Some activists and academics have written to Congress and to agency officials arguing that existing laws are “tools” for the government to impose price controls on patented drugs to lower drug prices.[1] Their arguments mischaracterize these statutes by inaccurately claiming that Congress has endorsed the imposition of price controls on patented drugs. It has not.

Drug pricing presents a multi-dimensional policy issue because the U.S. healthcare system comprises a complex, intermingled system of federal and state laws and regulations, as well as a myriad of equally complex and intermingled set of public and private institutions. Yet, activists and others inaccurately reduce the causes of drug prices to a single issue: patents. They argue that the federal government can “lower drug prices by breaking patent barriers,”[2] and they claim that two statutes can be used to achieve this policy goal: the Bayh-Dole Act and 28 U.S.C. § 1498.

Neither the Bayh-Dole Act nor § 1498 are price-control statutes, and thus they do not authorize the federal government to impose price controls on patents. This is clear by their plain legal text, as well as by their consistent interpretation by courts and agencies. The Bayh-Dole Act promotes the commercialization of patented inventions that may result from government funding of research, and § 1498 secures patent-owners in obtaining compensation for unauthorized uses of their property rights by the government. Neither law says anything about drug prices. If the government used either law to impose price controls on patented drugs, this would conflict with the clear purpose of these statutes. It would also represent an unprecedented and fundamental change in U.S. patent law. From 1790 through the twentieth century, Congress rejected bills that would impose compulsory licensing on patents.[3] The calls to use the Bayh-Dole Act or § 1498 for similar purposes fundamentally are at odds with these statutes and threaten to undermine the U.S. patent system’s historic success as a driver of U.S. global leadership in biopharmaceutical innovation.

This letter explains why neither the Bayh-Dole Act nor § 1498 can be used to break patents to impose price controls on drugs. First, it sets forth the proven success of the patent system as a driver of innovation in healthcare, which is the framework to evaluate the argument to “lower drug prices by breaking patent barriers.”[4] This argument threatens to undermine the legal system that has saved lives and improved everyone’s quality of life. It then describes the Bayh-Dole Act and § 1498, explaining how neither authorizes price controls on patented drugs. The policy argument seeking to impose price controls on drugs contradicts the clear text and purpose of these statutes.

Read the full letter here.

[1] See Letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren from Amy Kapczynski, Aaron S. Kesselheim, et al., at 1 (Apr. 20, 2022), Professor Kapczynski and Professor Kesselheim are the co-authors of this letter, which is based on their articles, and thus this letter is identified as the “Kapczynski-Kesselheim Letter.”

[2] Id. at 8

[3] See, e.g., Bruce W. Bugbee, Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law 143-44 (1967) (discussing the rejection of a Senate proposal for a compulsory licensing requirement in the bill that eventually became the Patent Act of 1790); Kali Murray, Constitutional Patent Law: Principles and Institutions, 93 Nebraska Law Review 901, 935-37 (2015) (discussing 1912 bill that imposed compulsory licensing on patent owners who are not manufacturing a patented invention, which received twenty-seven days of hearings, but was not enacted into law).

[4] Kapczynski-Kesselheim Letter, supra note 1, at 8.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Amicus Brief in US Supreme Court’s Loper Bright v Raimondo

Amicus Brief QUESTION PRESENTED Whether the court should overrule Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but . . .


Whether the court should overrule Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.


The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (“MI”) is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility. To that end, MI has historically worked sponsored scholarship and filed briefs supporting economic freedom against government overreach.

Richard Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University. He also serves as the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago.

Todd Zywicki is George Mason University Foundation Professor of Law at George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law and a research fellow of the GMU Law and Economics Center.

Justin “Gus” Hurwitz is a senior fellow and academic director of the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Geoffrey Manne is the president and founder of the International Center for Law and Economics and a distinguished fellow at Northwestern University’s Center on Law, Business, and Economics.

This case interests amici because it involves an agency regulation that was not explicitly authorized by statute. Indeed, it gives the Court a chance to revisit Chevron—either overruling it or clarifying that statutory silence does not require judicial deference.


Family-run fishing businesses face a fraught and competitive environment even before the intrusion of burdensome regulations. Here, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) promulgated a rule for certain classes of herring boats that sweeps in most such businesses, as portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie CODA. If a vessel needs a monitor and has not already been assigned one under a federally funded program, it must pay for one itself. The cost for most herring boats exceeds $710 per sea day.

Petitioners, four family-owned and -operated fishing companies, contend that the industry-funding requirement which is not explicitly authorized by statute—will have a devastating economic impact on the herring fleet and will disproportionately impact small businesses, destroying historic communities.

The district court ruled for the government, finding that various provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (“MSA”) together conferred broad authority on the NMFS to implement regulations to carry out fishery management plan’s measures. Without any analysis, the court also found that, even if the statute were ambiguous, the government’s reading would be reasonable under Chevron Step Two and thus worthy of judicial deference. A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the MSA’s authorization for the placement of monitors, through silence on funding, left room for agency discretion. This Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Court should overrule Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.

The Court should now take this opportunity to overhaul the Chevron-deference regime, because this experiment in rebalancing the relationship between administration and judicial review has failed. It has led to agency overreach, haphazard practical results, and the diminution of Congress. Although intended to empower Congress by limiting the role of courts, Chevron has instead empowered agencies to aggrandize their own powers to the greatest extent plausible under their operative statutes, and often beyond. Congress has proved unequal to the task of responding to this pervasive agency overreach and now has less of a role in policymaking than in the pre-Chevron era. Courts, in turn, have become sloppy and lazy in interpreting statutes. It’s a vicious cycle of legislative buckpassing and judicial deference to executive overreach.

Chevron deference rests on the presumption that Congress won’t over-delegate and that agencies will be loyal agents. But the past 40 years have shown that Congress loves passing the buck and agencies are actually principals who pursue their own interests. The time has more than come for the Court to revisit Chevron, whether it chooses to overrule it explicitly or keep it nominally under a newly restricted standard. Cf. Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019) (preserving Auer deference but reworking it so completely that both Chief Justice Roberts, who joined Justice Kagan’s majority opinion, and Justice Kavanaugh, who joined Justice Gorsuch’s effective dissent, noted that there wasn’t much difference between the two).


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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

A Wall of Separation Between Money and State: Policy and Philosophy for the Era of Cryptocurrency

Scholarship Abstract This article sets out a philosophy for money in this new digital age. Specifically, we propose two descriptive and two prescriptive theories relating to . . .


This article sets out a philosophy for money in this new digital age. Specifically, we propose two descriptive and two prescriptive theories relating to cryptocurrency.

On the descriptive side, we first introduce a novel classification scheme to categorize cryptocurrencies. Distinct terms like “central bank digital currency” and “cryptocurrency” are often interchanged, so a precise typology is necessary in setting the parameters of debates over monetary policy. Secondly, the article explains the ideological roots of private digital currency and specifically focuses on the impact of the Austrian School of Economics on Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin.

On the prescriptive side, we argue that governments’ plans for central bank digital currencies are neither novel nor good policy. The reality is that most of today’s central bank currencies are already digital, and any attempts to disintermediate the banking system—that is, to allow individuals to hold accounts directly with the central bank (and not private banks)—will result in a dangerous temptation for governments to micromanage the finances of their citizens.

Our second policy conclusion is a positive one. We recommend that central banks in developing nations adopt private, decentralized digital currencies or fixed money supplies to encourage foreign investment and increase the economic well-being and stability of their citizens.

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Financial Regulation & Corporate Governance

Amicus Brief of Zycher, Manne, Epstein, & Boudreaux in NTE Carolinas v Duke Energy

Amicus Brief Summary of Argument Courts should approach predatory pricing claims with caution because price cutting is central to competition and because false positive errors can chill . . .

Summary of Argument

Courts should approach predatory pricing claims with caution because price cutting is central to competition and because false positive errors can chill competition to the detriment of economic efficiency and consumer welfare.

Total average system cost is not an appropriate price floor for finding predation; the district court was right to reject a fixed-cost standard. This Court should reject claims based on the allegedly exclusionary effect of pricing not shown to be below short-run incremental cost. Moreover, a contention that Duke Energy’s discount or rebate structure was “exclusionary” should not change the analysis, because the timing of price reductions should not be relevant.


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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Brief of ICLE and Law & Economics Scholars in Deslandes v. McDonald’s

Amicus Brief Interest of Amicus Curiae[1] The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the . . .

Interest of Amicus Curiae[1]

The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law and economics methodologies to inform public policy debates and has longstanding expertise in antitrust law.

Amici also include twenty scholars of antitrust, law, and economics at leading universities and research institutions across the United States. Their names, titles, and academic affiliations are listed in Appendix A. All have longstanding expertise in antitrust law and economics.

Amici respectfully submit that their amicus brief will aid the Court in reviewing the order of dismissal by explaining that Plaintiffs did not plead and could not prove any plausible product or geographic market. This is a point that Plaintiffs attempt to elide in their appellate brief that warrants this Court’s attention. The foundation of almost every antitrust claim is a plausible market definition, yet Plaintiffs’ claims in this case are premised on a labor market—limited to one company (McDonald’s), but nationwide in scope—that has no basis in economic reality.

In addition, amici explain why Plaintiffs’ claims are subject to rule of reason scrutiny. This case involves a vertical, intrabrand restraint between McDonald’s and its franchisees, which promoted interbrand competition. It was not a naked restraint on trade, but rather an ancillary restriction that furthered McDonald’s procompetitive goal of creating a strong and stable brand. Treating such a restraint as per se unlawful, as Plaintiffs ask this Court to do, would stifle the type of legitimate cooperation that facilitates output and would ultimately harm consumers.


Until 2017, McDonald’s franchise agreements included a provision that prevented franchisees from hiring workers from other McDonald’s restaurants within the six-month period immediately following the workers’ prior employment. Two employees sued McDonald’s in a putative class action, alleging that this provision—which the parties refer to as “Paragraph 14”—was an unlawful agreement under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, that harmed competition by artificially suppressing wages. Plaintiffs argued that Paragraph 14 was per se unlawful or failed “quick look” review; on appeal (but not below), Plaintiffs also argue that Paragraph 14 fails scrutiny under the rule of reason. Brief of Appellants at 31-33, Deslandes v. McDonald’s USA LLC, No. 22-2333 & 22-2334 (7th Cir.) (“App. Br.”).

Under the rule of reason, Plaintiffs had the burden to plead and prove the relevant product and geographic markets within which McDonald’s allegedly exerted market power and caused the alleged anticompetitive effects. Plaintiffs’ claim has always been premised—explicitly or implicitly—on a single-brand and nationwide labor market for McDonald’s employees. (§ I.A). Although Plaintiffs shy away from that market on appeal, it is the only one discernible from the record and the only one on which Plaintiffs’ claims could possibly be premised. But that market is fatally flawed along the two axes that typically delineate antitrust markets: (1) geography and (2) products or services.

First, the relevant labor market is local: there is no national market for fast-food restaurant employees, as Plaintiffs suggest. Low-skilled restaurant workers sell their labor in local markets, primarily to avoid long commutes or relocation. The economic (and commonsense) reality is that a person applying for a McDonald’s job in Chicago, Illinois is not also looking for a McDonald’s job in Florida or Montana; nor are local McDonald’s restaurants recruiting employees nationwide. (§ I.B). Second, there is no McDonald’s-specific labor market for restaurant employees. McDonald’s restaurants compete vigorously with other fast-food and quick-service restaurants—and with firms outside the restaurant industry—for labor. Empirical economic evidence refutes Plaintiffs’ arguments to the contrary. (§ I.C).

Further, Plaintiffs cannot avoid the rule of reason (or their burden to plead and prove a relevant market) by invoking per se scrutiny. (§ II). First, Paragraph 14 was not a horizontal restraint; it was a vertical, intrabrand restraint between McDonald’s and its franchisees. (§ II.A). Second, Paragraph 14 was not a naked restraint on trade but was instead “ancillary” to McDonald’s procompetitive endeavor of developing its brand. (§ II.B). Third, Paragraph 14 does not fall in the narrow class of restrictions—like price fixing—universally condemned as anticompetitive. Nor are there sufficient economic studies showing that restraints like Paragraph 14 have a demonstrable and negative impact on trade, such that there would be a basis to depart from the default rule of reason standard. (§ II.C).

I.             There is no Nationwide, Single-Brand Market for McDonald’s Employment

Market definition enables courts to determine whether firms possess market power capable of restricting competition. The market provides a locus for the assessment of that market power and of whether that power has been exploited to harm competition and consumers.

Accordingly, “courts usually cannot properly apply the rule of reason without an accurate definition of the relevant market.” Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2285 (2018). The rule of reason requires a court to assess the “actual effect” that a defendant’s conduct has on competition. Id. at 2284 (quoting Copperweld Corp. v. Indep. Tube Corp., 467 U.S. 752, 768 (1984)). And without knowing the relevant market, “there is no way to measure the defendant’s ability to lessen or destroy competition.” Id. at 2285 (quoting Walker Process Equip., Inc. v. Food Mach. & Chem. Corp., 382 U.S. 172, 177 (1965)).[2]

A.             Plaintiffs Must Allege and Prove a Relevant Market

In the district court, Plaintiffs did not clearly define the relevant market in which Paragraph 14 allegedly harmed competition; and that failure defeats their claim under the rule of reason. See Agnew v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 683 F.3d 328, 347 (7th Cir. 2012) (affirming dismissal where “[p]laintiffs appear to have made the strategic decision to forgo identifying a specific relevant market,” and rejecting “post hoc arguments attempting to illuminate a buried market allegation”).

Plaintiffs are wrong to assert that they can rely on “direct evidence” of anticompetitive harm to avoid establishing a relevant market. App. Br. at 31. Even if they had such evidence, Plaintiffs would still have the burden to sketch out the “rough contours” of the relevant market and to show that McDonald’s commanded a substantial share of that market. See Republic Tobacco Co. v. N. Atl. Trading Co., 381 F.3d 717, 737 (7th Cir. 2004) (“[I]f a plaintiff can show the rough contours of a relevant market, and show that the defendant commands a substantial share of the market, then direct evidence of anticompetitive effects can establish the defendant’s market power[.]” (emphases added)). But Plaintiffs never inform this Court what product or geographic markets are involved here, even “roughly” speaking. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ references to their supposed “direct evidence” of anticompetitive harm, without regard to any market boundaries, App. Br. at 31-32, do not suffice.[3]

Rather than define a market, Plaintiffs fault the district court for assuming that their claim “depended upon a single, nationwide geographic market.” App. Br. at 31. But that assumption came not from the district court but from Plaintiffs themselves—as that was the only market potentially discernible in their complaints. See First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 117; Turner Compl. ¶¶ 109-13 (implying a single-brand, nationwide market). While Plaintiffs try to obscure their single-brand, nationwide market for McDonald’s labor on appeal, that is the only one that Plaintiffs rely upon in their opening brief, albeit obliquely. See App. Br. at 31 (arguing that Paragraph 14 “suppressed worker pay nationwide”); id. at 33 (arguing that McDonald’s and its franchisees were the “discrete group of buyers” that were able to “hold down wages”).

Plaintiffs’ proposed market is both implausible and economically unsound. Antitrust markets typically have two dimensions: (1) a geographic market and (2) a product or services market. See Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 370 U.S. 294, 324 (1962). Plaintiffs’ single-brand, nationwide market fails along both dimensions.

B.        The Relevant Market is Local, not National

First, to identify a relevant geographic market, the court must make a “careful selection of the market area in which the seller operates, and to which the purchaser can practicably turn for supplies.” Republic Tobacco, 381 F.3d at 738 (citing Tampa Elec. Co. v. Nashville Coal Co., 365 U.S. 320, 327 (1961)). In labor markets, the “sellers” are workers or job applicants selling their services (like Plaintiffs), and “purchasers” are employers (like McDonald’s) that compete with other firms to hire, employ, and retain the workers.

As the district court correctly found, low-wage restaurant employees sell their labor locally and McDonald’s restaurants compete only with geographically proximate employers to purchase that labor. See D.E. 372 (“Class Cert. Op.”) at 20-21. Fast-food and quick-serve restaurant employees are generally low-skilled and/or entry-level workers who “are looking for a position in the geographic area in which they already live and work, not a position requiring a long commute or a move.” Id. at 21.

While some employees might relocate for other reasons first, and then seek a restaurant job, it is not economically plausible that they would “search long distances for a low-skill job with the idea of then moving closer to the job.” Id. The costs of relocation—in economic terms, the “search” costs and “transition” costs—would far exceed any cost-adjusted increases in pay and benefits.

In practical terms, an hourly McDonald’s worker in Apopka, Florida who does not otherwise desire to move to California would not uproot her life, and leave family and friends, for a McDonald’s job in Los Angeles—even if the Los Angeles franchisee offers to raise her wages a few dollars per hour. The employee has many alternative opportunities that do not require relocation and, in any event, the higher cost of living in Los Angeles would negate the benefits of the wage increase. The total costs of relocation likely outweigh the marginal wage gain.

For similar reasons, an employee is unlikely to commute long distances—for example, from Urbana to Chicago, Illinois—to work at a McDonald’s, even if the McDonald’s in Chicago pays slightly higher wages than the one in Urbana. A marginal wage increase would not offset the time and “commuting costs”—i.e., gas and mileage. See Phillip E. Areeda & Herbert Hovenkamp, Antitrust Law: An Analysis of Antitrust Principles and Their Application ¶ 552 (5th ed. 2022) (explaining that “commuting costs” limit a supplier’s ability to operate in a distant geographic market).

Nor is it plausible that a McDonald’s franchisee in Apopka, Florida would recruit workers nationwide. That franchisee also faces search costs in the labor market. It must advertise its job openings, hire recruiters, and interview applicants, among other things. It would not be worthwhile to incur the substantial costs of a nationwide search for employees, when those employees would likely remain at the job for a relatively short time, and when there are many local workers with similar skills who could fill the role.

To be sure, some highly skilled employees in other industries—for example, corporate executives or professional athletes—undoubtedly search for high-paying or prestigious jobs nationwide. And their potential employers recruit nationwide. For those types of job-seekers, their decisions turn on the scarcity of those jobs, the substantial personal and financial investments (“sunk costs”) they have made to be qualified for such positions (which essentially “lock” them into the nationwide market), and the high salaries or total compensation that make relocation worthwhile. Likewise, for the hiring firm, the search is justified by the small number of qualified candidates, widely distributed across the country, and by the expected benefits. For example, it would be worthwhile for a firm to  search far and wide for a new CEO, knowing that there are only a few people in the country with the skills and leadership ability to lead the company out of financial troubles.

These rarefied exceptions confirm that the vast majority of labor markets are “geographically quite small.” Herbert Hovenkamp, Competition Policy for Labour Markets, U. Pa. Inst. L. & Econ. ¶ 12 (May 17, 2019). Applicants for low paying and fungible jobs have fundamentally different incentives than do corporate executives and professional athletes. The former do not have adequate incentives for a national search, given the substantial costs, plus relocation or long-distance commuting.

These intuitive points are supported by data and established economic methods. Several recent economic studies demonstrate that, “in a wide range of industries[,] geographic markets for employment are rather small,” and that this is “particularly true of low-wage employees.” Areeda & Hovenkamp, supra ¶ 550b (collecting studies). One empirical study shows that “more than 80% of [all] job applications occur where the applicant and prospective employer are within the same ‘commuting zone.’” Ioana Marinescu & Roland Rathelot, Mismatch Unemployment and the Geography of Job Search, 10(3) Am. Econ. J. Macro. 42 (2018).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) employs a methodology that confirms the district court’s findings with respect to localized markets. When BLS collects employment and unemployment statistics, it examines the “economically integrated geographic area within which individuals can reside and find employment within a reasonable distance or can readily change employment without changing their place of residence.” BLS, Local Area Unemployment Statistics Geographic Concepts, (Mar. 20, 2020). According to BLS, metropolitan and micropolitan areas are the “major” “labor market areas” (LMAs)—not the country as a whole. Id. The balance of the nation’s LMAs comprise a larger number of smaller geographic areas. Id. BLS identifies thousands of these small LMAs for each decennial census, based on its analysis of highly localized commuting flows. Id; see also Data.Gov, Commuting Zones and Labor Market Areas,  (Nov. 10, 2020).

Plaintiffs’ own expert witnesses acknowledged that a nationwide market was implausible in this case. Dr. Peter Capelli conceded that restaurant workers are employed in local geographic markets, defined by commuting distances. Class Cert. Op at 22-23 (citing Capelli Dep. at 235-36, D.E. 302-1 at 608-09) (“My testimony is that for the restaurant employees in particular, the crew employees, there may be labor markets of different geographic size and that the key issue there might not even be size, it might be commuting distance.”). And Dr. Hal Singer calculated that only 8% of McDonald’s employees commute ten or more miles to work. Id. at 23 (citing Singer Rep. ¶ 64, D.E. 271-5 at 54).

Other evidence in this case also demonstrates that market conditions vary substantially by location. McDonald’s own guidelines on worker pay account for local conditions. D.E. 302-19 at -997; D.E. 302-19 at -432, -444; see also D.E. 380 ¶¶ 40-50. The guidelines do not set forth a single, rigid nationwide formula—which one would expect to see if McDonald’s understood that its franchisees were competing for labor nationwide.

As this Court recently explained, “[t]he antitrust statutes require a ‘pragmatic’ and ‘factual’ approach to defining the geographic market,” and “[t]he market must ‘correspond to the commercial realities of the industry.’” Sharif Pharmacy, Inc. v. Prime Therapeutics, LLC, 950 F.3d 911, 917 (7th Cir. 2020) (quoting Brown Shoe, 370 U.S. at 336). Plaintiffs’ proposed nationwide market is neither pragmatic nor factual. It ignores the obvious commercial reality that local McDonald’s franchisees do not compete nationwide for low-skilled labor, and it ignores the empirical evidence that McDonald’s employees (and similarly situated low-wage employees) do not commute long distances or relocate for these types of jobs.

C.        The Market is not McDonald’s-Specific

The outer boundaries of a product market are defined by the “reasonable interchangeability of use or the cross-elasticity of demand between the product itself and substitutes for it.” Sharif Pharmacy, 950 F.3d at 918 (quoting Brown Shoe, 370 U.S. at 325). Cross-elasticity of demand, here, reflects the degree to which a significant increase or decrease in wages paid by alternative employers changes the number of workers hired or hours worked (quantity demanded) at the employer in question. In the classic company town, the cross-elasticity of demand is zero. When there are substitutes, it is positive, indicating that “consumers would respond to a slight increase in the price of one product by switching to another product.” Todd v. Exxon Corp., 275 F.3d 191, 201-02 (2d Cir. 2001); IIA Areeda & Hovenkamp, supra ¶ 562a.

In a “buyer-side” labor monopsony, such as Plaintiffs have alleged, the market is defined not by the competing sellers (employees), but by the availability of competing buyers (employers). See Todd, 275 F.3d at 201 (citing Roger D. Blair & Jeffrey L. Harrison, Antitrust Policy and Monopsony, 76 Cornell L. Rev. 297, 297-301, 308 (1991)). Thus, the key question is whether employees would see the various employers as reasonable substitutes for one another, such that they would respond to compensation changes by seeking those substitutes. Id. If so, then any of the reasonable substitutes must fall within the market definition for the plaintiff’s market to be plausible. See Rock v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 928 F. Supp. 2d 1010, 1021 (S.D. Ind. 2013) (“Plaintiffs’ proposed market is impermissibly narrow because it ignores the existence of [substitutes].”).

In a properly defined labor market, the greater the availability of substitute employers, the less “market power” each employer can have, as employees can go elsewhere when one employer lowers its wages or fails to meet wage increases by others. When a labor market is highly concentrated, by contrast, the employer may be able to exert monopsony buying power. For example, a pure labor monopsony might exist in the classic “company town,” where there is only one large employer—such as a lumber mill or coal mine—that has wide discretion to set wages without employees leaving for other jobs. Those employees are, in effect, “locked in” to selling their labor to the single employer. Cf. Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 472-73, 476 (1992) (seller can “lock in” customer to aftermarket for equipment repairs, if customers already purchased equipment in the foremarket and switching costs are high). In the modern economy, however, such examples are rare; and the market for hourly restaurant employees bears no resemblance to a company town.

Nevertheless, Plaintiffs here allege that McDonald’s is a monopsony buyer of labor—not just in a highly concentrated market, but in a single-brand market for McDonald’s labor. App. Br. at 7. In other words, McDonald’s allegedly has monopsony power to set the wages at which it hires and retains employees because employees (or applicants) generally would not see any non-McDonald’s employment opportunities as reasonable substitutes.

Plaintiffs’ theory thus depends upon implausible assumptions about McDonald’s market power and the elasticity of demand: that substantial wage increases by alternative local employers—including, but not limited to, fast food or quick-service restaurants like Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, and Subway—would have little or no impact on the ability of a local McDonald’s franchise to hire or retain workers at a given antecedent wage. That is not only implausible in this case, but there is no evidence that it is the norm across low-wage labor markets. See, e.g., Jordan D. Matsudaira, Monopsony in the Low-Wage Labor Market? Evidence from Minimum Nurse Staffing Regulations, 96(1) Rev. Econ. & Statistics 92, 102 (2014) (empirical data in low-wage labor markets are “difficult to reconcile with the notion that low-wage labor markets such as those for fast food workers are monopsonist”).

These assumptions underlying Plaintiffs’ alleged market defy basic economic principles and common sense. Courts are highly skeptical of alleged single-brand markets with no substitutes at all, as those markets are almost always artificial and litigation-driven. See, e.g., Sheridan v. Marathon Petroleum Co., 530 F.3d 590, 595 (7th Cir. 2008) (rejecting single-brand market); Todd, 275 F.3d at 200 & n.3 (“Cases in which dismissal on the pleadings is appropriate frequently involve . . . failed attempts to limit a product market to a single brand, franchise, institution, or comparable entity….” (collecting cases)).

McDonald’s does not have monopsony power in any relevant market because, from an employee’s perspective, there are many reasonable substitutes in the geographic areas in which a given McDonald’s franchisee operates. McDonald’s franchisees compete vigorously for labor with other local employers within and without the quick-service industry. As the district court observed, there are multitudes of adequate, substitute employers for low-wage employees—including (1) other quick-serve restaurants, like Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, and Jimmy John’s; (2) other restaurants, like Applebee’s; (3) larger retailers, like Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Costco; and (4) a host of other businesses like grocery stores and hotels. Class Cert. Op. at 21-22.

Even narrowing substitutes to just quick-service restaurants, the district court found numerous (even hundreds of) substitute employers within close geographic proximity to each of the named Plaintiffs, and the number of alternative quick-service restaurants dwarfed the number of McDonald’s franchises in the same area. Id. at 6.

Plaintiffs’ claim of monopsony buying power thus depends on the far-fetched premise that McDonald’s can suppress wages, notwithstanding hundreds of non-McDonald’s quick-service restaurants—and numerous other alternative employers—near Plaintiffs and other putative class members. In reality, if McDonald’s lowered its wages (or other employers raised theirs, and McDonald’s did not match), McDonald’s would lose its supply of labor. See Madison 92nd St. Assocs., LLC v. Courtyard Mgmt. Corp., 624 F. App’x 23, 29 (2d Cir. 2015) (in labor markets involving entry-level work, “it is beyond doubt that [employers] would have to increase their wages to retain any employees” if nearby employers “suddenly doubled the wages they paid to their employees”).

To evade this economic and commonsense reality, Plaintiffs and their expert, Dr. Singer, attempted to attribute monopsony power to McDonald’s as a structural feature of the labor economy in general. In other words, in their view, all employers of low-wage workers enjoy monopsony power in their labor markets, and, ipso facto, McDonald’s has market power in a single-brand market nationwide (or in each and every local labor market) because it employs low-wage workers.

In his expert report, for example, Dr. Singer characterizes economic literature as arguing that the ability of firms to suppress wages is “surprisingly common throughout the economy.” D.E. 271-5 (Singer Rep. ¶ 17). Thus, he stated, it “would be consistent with this literature . . . [t]hat McDonald’s-branded restaurant owners also face a low elasticity of labor supply[.]” Id.; see also id. ¶ 39 (“In light of [the economic literature], it is likely that both McDonald’s Franchisees and the McOpCos would continue to exercise some degree of monopsony power over their employees, even in the absence of the No-Hire Agreement.”).

On appeal, Plaintiffs point to Dr. Singer’s opinions about labor monopsonies, in general, as evidence that McDonald’s, specifically, had market power and could suppress wages in a proposed single-brand market for McDonald’s labor. See App. Br. at 30-33 (arguing that Plaintiffs “buttressed their direct proof of detrimental effects with substantial economic scholarship showing that low?wage employers, including those in the fast food sector, possess market power over their employees”); see also id. at 51 (arguing that “an overview of economic research demonstrat[es] that employers exercise significant monopsony power over their employees”).

Whatever the “structural” features of broader markets—comprising many low-wage employers and firms—those features say nothing about one company’s individual market power and ability to harm competition in a properly defined market. In any event, even if such a sweeping claim could suffice to carry one’s burden of proof as to a specific defendant, the claim is still inaccurate and inconsistent with the economic features of the quick-service restaurant industry. That industry is characterized by low barriers to entry for employees, extremely high turnover rates, and substantial wage growth.[4]

First, “[f]ood and beverage serving and related workers typically have no requirements for formal education or work experience to enter the occupation.” BLS, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers, (Sept. 8, 2022). Unlike corporate executives and professional athletes, fast-food restaurant employees do not make large investments to obtain restaurant positions. Thus, they are not “locked in” to any one restaurant or even the restaurant industry, contrary to Plaintiffs’ argument that there are “high switching costs” for restaurant employees. App. Br. at 34.

Indeed, recent data show that the turnover in the quick-service sector is incredibly high, at around 144%—which means that if a restaurant has a total of 30 people on staff at any given time, it faced about 43 departures in the last year alone. See Daily Pay, The Turnover and Retention Rates for QSR Businesses (Nov. 15, 2022). BLS also recently found that the seasonally-adjusted “quit rate” for the accommodation and food services industry was 5.8% as of October 2022—higher than any other industry. See BLS, Economic News Release, Job Openings and Labor Turnover, Table 4, Quits levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted (Jan. 4, 2023). When restaurant workers quit, moreover, they frequently leave the restaurant industry altogether, creating high numbers of job openings for new entrants into restaurant sector employment. See BLS, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers, (Sept. 8, 2022).

Moreover, fast-food workers in 2021, on average, benefitted from a 10% wage increase from 2020. See Dominick Reuter and Madison Hoff, A 10% pay increase and 8 other stats show how crazy it is to work in fast food right now, Business Insider (Aug. 24, 2021). Such rapid wage growth undermines Plaintiffs’ claim that monopsony power is a structural feature of the restaurant industry. To the contrary, this wage growth suggests that normal market factors of supply and demand are at play. Cf. Richard A. Epstein, Antitrust Overreach in Labor Markets: A Response to Eric Posner, 15 NYU J. L. & Liberty 407, 432 (2022) (“There is no global evidence, given the chronic fluctuations and frequent shortages, to believe that labor markets are rife with hidden pockets of monopsony power that function as economic black holes.”).

Finally, the most robust study of the relationship between wages and hours worked in fast-food labor markets yielded results that are consistent with competitive labor markets, rather than a monopsony model. See David Neumark and William Wascher, Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania: Comment, 90 Am. Econ. Rev. 1362, 1382 (2000) (critiquing the famous Card & Krueger minimum-wage study using direct data, rather than surveys, and looking at hours worked rather than overall employment; and finding that fast-food employers make wage and hour decisions consistent with “the prediction of the textbook [competitive] model”); see also David Neumark and William L. Wascher, Minimum Wages 106 (MIT Press 2007) (reviewing literature on low-wage restaurant workers and concluding that “the low-wage labor market can be reasonably approximated by the neoclassical competitive model”).

Overall, the empirical data show that the labor markets in which restaurants participate are dynamic and competitive, not dominated by monopsonists with the power to suppress wages at will.

II.         Paragraph 14 is Subject to the Rule of Reason

Plaintiffs cannot avoid their burden to plead and prove a market by insisting on per se analysis or even “quick look” review of Paragraph 14. The rule of reason governs Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims with respect to Paragraph 14 for at least three reasons. First, the restriction was a vertical, intrabrand restraint, not a horizontal one. Second, even if it were horizontal, it was still ancillary to the procompetitive franchise agreement. Third, Paragraph 14 does not fall within that narrow class of restrictions—such as price fixing—universally and historically condemned as anticompetitive. See Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141, 2155-56 (2021) (explaining “spectrum” of antitrust analysis).

As noted above, McDonald’s vigorously competes with numerous firms in both labor markets and the output market. Its competitive efforts have included various intrabrand restraints among its franchisees that foster a strong, consistent brand identity, along with shared marketing and product development. That successful brand identity is what attracts individual franchisees to open and operate McDonald’s restaurants. Because Paragraph 14 was such a vertical restraint, and ancillary to McDonald’s procompetitive objectives, it cannot be per se unlawful. Rather, it is subject to full rule of reason analysis.

A.        Paragraph 14 is a Vertical, Intrabrand Restraint

Paragraph 14 is a vertical, not horizontal, restraint. It was conceived and imposed by the franchisor, McDonald’s—not competing franchisees.

In 1955, McDonald’s included in its franchise agreement the predecessor to the Paragraph 14 restriction as part of an initial bundle of brand standards. That original franchise agreement also included limits on, among other things, product offerings and territorial exclusivity, as many franchise agreements do. D.E. 380-20. The terms of the agreement were consistent across franchisees, and were designed, insisted upon, and monitored by McDonald’s itself. Paragraph 14 was not created as part of an agreement among horizontal competitors, nationally or in any particular geographic labor market. Indeed, the large national (and subsequently international) network of McDonald’s franchises did not yet exist when the key elements of the franchise agreement were established.

Plaintiffs suggest the restraint was per se unlawful because corporate-owned restaurants, McOpCos, were horizontal competitors with independently owned franchisees. See App. Br. at 25, 44. In those local markets comprising both McOpCos and independently owned franchises, the district court found the restraint horizontal, but ancillary and subject to the rule of reason. Op. at 9. But the district court also identified vertical aspects to the terms that, in fact, obtain in most geographic markets. Id. at 4-5.

Paragraph 14 was necessarily a vertical restraint in the twenty states in which there were no McOpCo restaurants at all. Class Cert. Op. 17. In the remaining states, Paragraph 14 still operated as a vertical restraint in the local labor markets that had only independently owned franchisees or McOpCos, but not both. In other words, it was impossible for the restraint to operate horizontally on a national level, because the putative competition between independent franchisees and McOpCos could not have occurred in the many labor markets in which there were no McOpCos. Id. (finding that Plaintiffs have “not [ ] put forth evidence that McOpCos compete with franchisees in every part of the United States”).

Vertical restraints, like Paragraph 14, are generally evaluated under the rule of reason because they often foster interbrand competition. Thus, for decades, the Supreme Court has whittled down the types of vertical restraints that are subject to per se condemnation. In 1977, the Court refused to extend per se illegality to vertical non-price restraints, noting that vertical restrictions tend to promote interbrand competition, “the primary concern of antitrust law.” Cont’l T.V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania Inc., 433 U.S. 36, 49, 52 n.19, 58 (1977). A decade later, the Court observed that “a rule of per se illegality for vertical nonprice restraints was not needed or effective to protect intra brand competition.” Bus. Elecs. Corp. v. Sharp Elects. Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 725 (1988). And, in 2007, the Court repudiated the prohibition of vertical price restraints that it had adopted nearly a century earlier. See Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877 (2007) (overruling Dr. Miles Med. Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U.S. 373 (1911), and subjecting vertical price restraints to rule of reason analysis).

In these decisions, the Court repeatedly emphasized that any departure from the rule of reason “must be based on demonstrable economic effect, rather than . . . upon formalistic line drawing.” Bus. Elecs., 485 U.S. at 724; see also Leegin, 551 U.S. at 889 (applying rule of reason in part because “economics literature is replete with procompetitive justifications for a manufacturer’s use of resale price maintenance”).

While Plaintiffs seek a departure from the rule of reason here, economic research confirms that vertical restraints—including franchisor-franchisee restraints—tend to be procompetitive. Reviewing the empirical and theoretical literature on vertical restraints, Lafontaine and Slade observed that:

[T]he empirical evidence concerning the e?ects of vertical restraints on consumer wellbeing is surprisingly consistent. Speci?cally, it appears that when manufacturers choose to impose such restraints, not only do they make themselves better o? but they also typically allow consumers to bene?t from higher quality products and better service provision.

Francine Lafontaine & Margaret Slade, Exclusive Contracts and Vertical Restraints: Empirical Evidence and Public Policy, 10 Handbook of Antitrust Economics 391, 408-09 (Buccirossi ed., 2008); see also Francine Lafontaine & Margaret E. Slade, Transaction Cost Economics and Vertical Market Restrictions—Evidence, 55(3) The Antitrust Bulletin 587 (2010).

The rule of reason is especially appropriate here because Paragraph 14 is not only a vertical restraint, but an intrabrand one as well. And intra-franchise no-hire agreements are fundamentally different from inter-company restraints for two principal reasons.

First, intra-franchise labor restraints do not restrict output or price in the labor market because they do not affect the ability of alternative employers to compete for workers—whether those employers operate other types of quick-service restaurants or any of the myriad establishments that compete for the same pool of lower-skilled workers.

Second, even if McDonald’s did have the ability to confer labor monopsony power on local franchisees (it does not, see infra), it had no economic incentive to do so. Creating local labor monopsonies would suppress wages in those areas. That would reduce the quantity of labor employed and, in turn, suppress output in the downstream product market (i.e., food sales). See, e.g., Herbert J. Hovenkamp, Worker Welfare and Antitrust, __ U. Chi. L. Rev. 1, 10, 13 (2022) (“[T]he demand for labor as an input is closely correlated with the amount of product or service output that the firm is generating.”). But McDonald’s as a franchisor depends on product output for royalties; it has no desire to reduce its royalties by creating dysfunction in the labor market.

Because Paragraph 14 is a vertical and intrabrand restraint, it must be subject to the rule of reason.

B.        Paragraph 14 is Ancillary to the Franchise Agreement

Paragraph 14 is also subject to scrutiny under the rule of reason (rather than per se or quick look analysis) because it was “ancillary” to a procompetitive franchise agreement. In other words, there was a clear procompetitive rationale for the entire bundle of vertically imposed restraints embodied in the McDonald’s franchise agreement: brand quality and consistency. Paragraph 14 promoted that larger endeavor and was not a naked restraint on trade.

For example, Paragraph 14 limited the ability of individual franchisees to free-ride on training investments by McDonald’s and other franchisees. That in turn encouraged investment in employee development and training, and in the McDonald’s system and brand more generally. Limits on intrabrand employee raiding foster brand consistency and stability, which also are advantageous for the growth of a nationwide brand. See, e.g., Gregory J. Werden, The Ancillary Restraints Doctrine after Dagher, 8 Sedona Conf. J. 17, 21 (2007).

Plaintiffs nonetheless argue that Paragraph 14 cannot be regarded as ancillary because it was not “reasonably necessary” to the procompetitive goals of the franchise agreement, purportedly demonstrated by the fact that the cessation of the restraint in 2017 was not fatal to McDonald’s franchise system. App. Br. at 23. That argument claims too much and shows too little.

As a legal matter, ancillarity does not require a showing that restraints are strictly necessary, but only that they “may contribute to the success of a cooperative venture.” Polk Bros., Inc. v. Forest City Enters., Inc., 776 F.2d 185, 189 (7th Cir. 1985). A restraint is ancillary, in other words, if, “at the time it was adopted,” it bears a reasonable relationship to the joint venture’s success. Id. (emphasis added); see also Major League Baseball Props., Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 339-40 (2d Cir. 2008) (Sotomayor, J., concurring). By pointing to the fact that McDonald’s was still able to sign franchisees after 2017, Plaintiffs implicitly argue that a restraint can be ancillary only if its removal destroys the entire endeavor. That is not the law. In other words, a company’s decision to remove one part of a bundle of its practices does not mean the part that was removed never contributed to success of the business. Moreover, to require that businesses precisely calibrate the timing of their policy changes and the substance of those changes would chill the ability of businesses to develop and test new policies and business models. Cf. Werden, supra, at 23-24 (comprehensive analysis by DOJ economist rejecting strict-necessity test).

C.        Paragraph 14 Does not Fall in the Narrow Category of Per Se Unlawful Conduct

Paragraph 14 is not one of those few restrictions—such as price fixing and boycotts—that have been universally and historically condemned as anticompetitive; we are aware of no cases holding that this restraint is per se unlawful, and Plaintiffs cite none. See App. Br. at 25 (citing only inapposite decisions and Arrington v. Burger King Worldwide, Inc., 47 F.4th 1247, 1257 (11th Cir. 2022), which held that a no-hire agreement was “concerted activity” under Section 1 of the Sherman Act but instructed the district court “in the first instance” to determine the level of scrutiny). Accordingly, there is a strong presumption that the rule of reason applies. Bus. Elecs., 485 U.S. at 726; see also Alan J. Meese, In Praise of All or Nothing Dichotomous Categories: Why Antitrust Law Should Reject the Quick Look, 104 Geo. L.J. 835, 878-79 (2016) (“Declaring all horizontal restraints inherently suspect would presumptively condemn all manner of cooperation necessary to allocate resources to their highest valued use, relegating economic actors to cooperation achieved through atomistic interaction in the spot market or complete integration.”).

Plaintiffs do not offer any reason to depart from that standard, nor is there one. As the Supreme Court has held, a departure from rule of reason must be “justified by demonstrable economic effect.” Id. Yet there is a dearth of economic studies on the effects of this type of intrabrand no-hire or no-poach agreement on the labor market. Indeed, the Ashenfelter and Krueger study, on which Plaintiffs’ expert relied, states that “systematic evidence on the impact of no-poaching agreements on workers’ pay and within-franchise job mobility is unavailable.” Ashenfelter & Krueger, supra n.4, at 21. Moreover, to evaluate the impact of no-poach agreements on pay and mobility, one would have to control for a number of important variables—e.g., inter-firm variation in the terms of no-poach agreements, inter-firm variation in the bundling of employment restrictions, and interstate variation in the enforceability of employment restrictions. The only study we are aware of that attempts to do so concludes that elimination of no-poach clauses “causes minimal reductions in job concentration and no increase in wages.” Daniel S. Levy, et al., No-Poaching Clauses, Job Concentration and Wages: A Natural Experiment Generated by a State Attorney General, Advanced Analytical Consulting Group, Inc., at 1 (Jan. 23, 2020).

While the Court has said that a departure from the rule of reason should not be based on “formalistic line drawing,” that is precisely what Plaintiffs (and amici Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Dept. of Justice) propose. For example, Plaintiffs argue that per se treatment is appropriate because (1) in a small number of geographic markets, there are both McOpCos and independently owned franchisees,[5] and (2) interbrand no-poach agreements have been found by some courts analogous to market allocation agreements. App. Br. at 25, 44. But two analogies do not an equivalence make. Even in the limited and atypical markets comprising both McOpCos and independently owned McDonald’s franchises, there is still no evidence of monopsony power over the labor market. As the district court noted regarding Plaintiff Deslandes, alternative employers outnumbered McDonald’s franchises by more than a factor of twenty.

Judicial inexperience and limited economic literature, as well as the facts on the ground, all suggest that this was precisely the type of business practice for which more elaborate economic study is needed before subjecting it to per se condemnation.


For the foregoing reasons, this Court should affirm.


Amici Scholars of Law and Economics

Dirk Auer is the Director of Competition Policy at the International Center for Law & Economics and Adjunct Professor at the University of Liege in Belgium.

Jonathan M. Barnett is the Torrey H. Webb Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

James C. Cooper is a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law.

Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.

Luke M. Froeb is the William C. Oehmig Chair in Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Vanderbilt University Owen School of Management.

Harold Furchtgott-Roth is a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Daniel J. Gilman is a Senior Scholar at the International Center of Law & Economics.

Janice Hauge is a Professor of Economics at the University of North Texas Department of Economics.

Justin (Gus) Hurwitz is a Professor of Law at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

Stan J. Liebowitz is the Ashbel Smith Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Abbott (Tad) Lipsky, Jr. is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Daniel A. Lyons is a Professor & Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Boston College Law School.

Geoffrey A. Manne is President and Founder of the International Center for Law & Economics and a Distinguished Fellow at the Northwestern University Center on Law, Business & Economics.

Scott E. Masten is a Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Alan Meese is the Ball Professor of Law and Dean’s Faculty Fellow at William & Mary Law School.

Paul H. Rubin is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economic Emeritus at the Emory University Department of Economics and Law School.

Vernon L. Smith is the George L. Argyros Endowed Chair in Finance and Economics at the Chapman University Argyros School of Business of Economics. Professor Smith was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2022.

Michael E. Sykuta is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri.

Gregory J. Werden is a retired economist at the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division.

John M. Yun is an Associate Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law.

[1] All parties have consented to the filing of this brief. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 29(a)(4)(E), counsel for ICLE represents that no counsel for any of the parties authored any portion of this brief and that no entity, other than amicus curiae or its counsel, monetarily contributed to the preparation or submission of this brief.

[2] See Gregory J. Werden, Why (Ever) Define Markets? An Answer to Professor Kaplow, 78 Antitrust L.J. 729, 741 (2013) (“Alleging the relevant market in an antitrust case . . . identifies the competitive process alleged to be harmed.”); Jonathan B. Baker, Market Definition: An Analytical Overview, 74 Antitrust L.J. 129, 129 (2007) (“Market definition is often the most critical step in evaluating market power and determining whether business conduct has or likely will have anticompetitive effects.”).

[3] Cf. Toys “R” Us, Inc. v. FTC, 221 F.3d 928, 937 (7th Cir. 2000) (“direct evidence” suffices where the parties agreed on a nationwide market, and the defendant held “20% of the national wholesale market and up to 49% of some local wholesale markets”).

[4] Dr. Singer misconstrues a key study in the limited economic literature regarding franchise hiring terms. That study—Orley Ashenfelter & Alan B. Krueger, Theory and Evidence on Employer Collusion in the Franchise Sector, IZA Discussion Paper, No. 11672 (July 2018) (cited at Singer Rep. ¶¶ 20, 23)—did not employ a causal design, and it did not establish—nor even purport to establish—that employers generally have or exercise antitrust-relevant market power, as Dr. Singer suggests. Singer Rep. ¶ 23. The study also found widespread use of no-poach terms among many brands that did not enjoy significant market, indicating that market power is not a prerequisite for a franchise to impose no-poach agreements.

[5] FTC and DOJ argue that assessing the horizontality of “employee-allocation agreements in the franchise context . . . requires a fact-bound evaluation of whether the agreement limits rivalry between actual or potential competitors.” DOJ & FTC Br. at 26-27 n.8. But, as noted above, there is undisputed evidence that in several states and local markets there was no competition between independently owned franchisees and McOpCos. Class Cert. Op. 17.

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