Showing 9 of 44 Publications in Duty to Deal & Essential Facilities

‘New Madison Approach’ Should Be Retained to Promote American Innovation

TOTM The leading contribution to sound competition policy made by former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Makan Delrahim was his enunciation of the “New Madison Approach” to . . .

The leading contribution to sound competition policy made by former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Makan Delrahim was his enunciation of the “New Madison Approach” to patent-antitrust enforcement—and, in particular, to the antitrust treatment of standard essential patent licensing (see, for example, herehere, and here). In short (citations omitted)…

Read the full piece here.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

The Antitrust Prohibition of Favoritism, or the Imposition of Corporate Selflessness

TOTM It is my endeavor to scrutinize the questionable assessment articulated against default settings in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Google. Default, I will argue, . . .

It is my endeavor to scrutinize the questionable assessment articulated against default settings in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Google. Default, I will argue, is no antitrust fault. Default in the Google case drastically differs from default referred to in the Microsoft case. In Part I, I argue the comparison is odious. Furthermore, in Part II, it will be argued that the implicit prohibition of default settings echoes, as per listings, the explicit prohibition of self-preferencing in search results. Both aspects – default’s implicit prohibition and self-preferencing’s explicit prohibition – are the two legs of a novel and integrated theory of sanctioning corporate favoritism. The coming to the fore of such theory goes against the very essence of the capitalist grain. In Part III, I note the attempt to instill some corporate selflessness is at odds with competition on the merits and the spirit of fundamental economic freedoms.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Digital Duty to Deal, Data Portability, and Interoperability

Scholarship In this chapter, we discuss the development of the duty to deal doctrine in antitrust law, its application to the digital economy, and proposals for specific duties to deal, such as data portability and interoperability.

Abstract

In this chapter, we discuss the development of the duty to deal doctrine in antitrust law, its application to the digital economy, and proposals for specific duties to deal, such as data portability and interoperability.

Part I outlines the development of the duty to deal doctrine in antitrust law. The development of the doctrine in the United States will be compared to that in the European Union. Popular economic justifications for the doctrine and key cases will be explored. Part II then situates this doctrine within the digital economy, focusing on the importance of getting the contours of the doctrine right in that economy. As we shall see, the law and economics of the duty to deal caution against its application to dynamic, digital markets. This will be illustrated by looking at cases where it has been applied. Part III focuses on two specific categories of duties to deal: data portability and interoperability.

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Data Security & Privacy

Congressman Buck’s Third Way

TL;DR U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) has proposed what he calls a “Third Way” to improve competition in digital markets.

Background…

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) has proposed what he calls a “Third Way” to improve competition in digital markets. While Buck rejects many of the remedies proposed by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democrats, he generally accepts their premises about the state of the market. Ultimately, Buck’s “Third Way” is intended to highlight areas where he and the Democrats agree, while avoiding some of the specific regulations the Democrats have proposed.

But…

Buck’s proposals would lead to a similar outcome to what the Democrats are proposing, even if he wants to avoid that. His most significant proposals—to apply the essential facilities doctrine to digital platforms, require them to be interoperable with other services, to ban self-preferencing by those platforms, and to ban below-cost selling—would constrain significantly the abilities of existing platforms to serve their customers and of would-be entrants to compete with incumbents. They also would most likely necessitate significant regulation, including price controls.

Read the full explainer here. 

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Correcting Common Misperceptions About the State of Antitrust Law and Enforcement

Written Testimonies & Filings On Friday, April 17, 2020, ICLE President and Founder, Geoffrey A. Manne, submitted written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law.

On Friday, April 17, 2020, ICLE President and Founder, Geoffrey A. Manne, submitted written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law. Mr. Manne contends that underlying much of the contemporary antitrust debate are two visions of how an economy should work. 

One vision, which tends to favor more intervention and regulation than the status quo, sees the economy and society as being constructed from above by laws and courts. In this view, suspect business behavior must be justified to be permitted, and . . . the optimal composition of markets can be known and can be designed by well-intentioned judges and legislators.

On the other hand, there is the view of individual and company behavior as emerging from each person’s actions within a framework of property rights and the rule of law. This view sees the economy as a messy discovery process, with business behavior often being experimental in nature. This second conception often sees government intervention as risky, because it assumes a level of knowledge about the dynamics of markets that is impossible to obtain.  

In Manne’s view,

Antitrust law and enforcement policy should, above all, continue to adhere to the error-cost framework, which informs antitrust decision-making by considering the relative costs of mistaken intervention compared with mistaken non-intervention. Specific cases should be addressed as they come, with an implicit understanding that, especially in digital markets, precious few generalizable presumptions can be inferred from the previous case. The overall stance should be one of restraint, reflecting the state of our knowledge. We may well be able to identify anticompetitive harm in certain cases, and when we do, we should enforce the current laws. But dramatic new statutes that undo decades of antitrust jurisprudence or reallocate burdens of proof with the stroke of a pen are unjustified.  

Manne goes on to address several of the most important and common misperceptions that seem to be fueling the current drive for new and invigorated antitrust laws. These misperceptions are that: 

  1. We can infer that antitrust enforcement is lax by looking at the number of cases enforcers bring;  
  2. Concentration is rising across the economy, and, as a result of this trend, competition is declining; 
  3. Digital markets must be uncompetitive because of the size of many large digital platforms; 
  4. Vertical integration by dominant digital platforms is presumptively harmful; 
  5. Digital platforms anticompetitively self-preference to the detriment of competition and consumers; 
  6. Dominant tech platforms engage in so-called “killer acquisitions” to stave off potential competitors before they grow too large; and 
  7. Access to user data confers a competitive advantage on incumbents and creates an important barrier to entry. 

 

See his full testimony, here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Ninth Circuit Amicus Brief in FTC v. Qualcomm

Amicus Brief INTRODUCTION The district court’s decision is disconnected from the underlying economics of the case. It improperly applied antitrust doctrine to the facts, and the result . . .

INTRODUCTION

The district court’s decision is disconnected from the underlying economics of the case. It improperly applied antitrust doctrine to the facts, and the result subverts the economic rationale guiding monopolization jurisprudence. The decision—if it stands—will undercut the competitive values antitrust law was designed to protect.

Antitrust law should seek to minimize error and decision costs to maximize consumer welfare and reduce the likelihood of self-defeating antitrust interventions. See Frank H. Easterbrook, The Limits of Antitrust, 63 Tex. L. Rev. 1 (1984). The Supreme Court has thoroughly incorporated the economic logic of this “error cost” framework into its antitrust jurisprudence. See Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2287 (2018) (“Any other analysis would lead to ‘mistaken inferences’ of the kind that could ‘chill the very conduct the antitrust laws are designed to protect.’ ”) (quoting Brooke Grp. Ltd. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 509 U.S. 209, 226 (1993)); see also Thomas A. Lambert & Alden F. Abbott, Recognizing the Limits of Antitrust: The Roberts Court Versus the Enforcement Agencies, 11 J. Competition L. & Econ. 791 (2015).

In contrast, this case is a prime—and potentially disastrous— example of how the unwarranted reliance on inadequate inferences of anticompetitive effect lead to judicial outcomes utterly at odds with Supreme Court precedent.

The district court’s decision confuses several interrelated theories of harm resting on the central premise that Qualcomm’s business model is purposefully structured to preserve its ability to license its standard essential patents (SEPs) to device makers (OEMs) at “unreasonably high royalty rates,” thus “impos[ing] an artificial surcharge on all sales of its rivals’ modem chips,” which “reduces rivals’ margins, and results in exclusivity.” FTC v. Qualcomm Inc., No. 17-CV-00220-LHK, 2019 WL 2206013, slip op. at 183 (N.D. Cal. May 21, 2019) (hereinafter slip op.).

But, without more, high royalty rates, artificial surcharges, the reduction of rivals’ margins, and even exclusivity do not violate the Sherman Act. Indeed, high prices are as likely the consequence of the lawful exercise of monopoly power or the procompetitive offering of higher quality products, and harm to competitors is a hallmark of vigorous competition. See, e.g., Verizon Commc’ns Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP, 540 U.S. 398, 407 (2004) (“The mere possession of monopoly power, and the concomitant charging of monopoly prices, is not only not unlawful; it is an important element of the free-market system.”). Avoiding the wrongful condemnation of such conduct is precisely the point of the Court’s error cost holdings.

The district court commits several key errors inconsistent with both Supreme Court precedent and its underlying economic framework.

First, the court failed to require proof of the anticompetitive harm allegedly caused by Qualcomm’s conduct. Instead, the court infers both its existence and its cause, see slip op. at 42–43, justifying its approach with reference to a single case: United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34, 79 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“We may infer causation when exclusionary conduct is aimed at producers of nascent competitive technologies as well as when it is aimed at producers of established substitutes.”).

But the court misreads Microsoft and disregards contrary Supreme Court precedent. Indeed, both the Court and Microsoft made clear that a finding of illegal monopolization may not rest on an inference of anticompetitive harm.

In Brooke Group, the Court took the unusual step of reviewing an appellate decision for the sufficiency of evidence, prodded by the need to protect against the costs of erroneously condemning procompetitive conduct. See 509 U.S. at 230. It held that only evidence defendant’s conduct injured “competition, not competitors” supports a monopolization claim. Id. at 224 (citation omitted). And because harm to competitors doesn’t necessarily mean harm to competition, inferring anticompetitive harm from such evidence would not suffice: “mistaken inferences are especially costly, because they chill the very conduct the antitrust laws are designed to protect.” Id. at 226 (citation omitted).

In subsequent cases, the Court redoubled its commitment to minimizing error costs arising from erroneous inferences of anticompetitive effect. See Trinko, 540 U.S. at 414 (“The cost of false positives counsels against an undue expansion of § 2 liability.”) (citation omitted); Pac. Bell Tel. Co. v. linkLine Commc’ns, Inc., 555 U.S. 438, 451 (2009).

As law and economics scholars, we are concerned that, because the district court’s decision rests on tenuous, unsupported inferences, “[i]f the district court’s holding is not repudiated on appeal, then the obvious consequence will be for companies to be deterred from much innocent and potentially procompetitive business conduct.” Douglas H. Ginsburg, Joshua D. Wright & Lindsey M. Edwards, Section 2 Mangled: FTC v. Qualcomm on the Duty to Deal, Price Squeezes, and Exclusive Dealing 2 (George Mason Univ. Law & Econ. Research Paper Series 19-21, Aug. 19, 2019), http://bit.ly/2z7aZzA.

This concern is not just academic. See FTC v. Qualcomm, No. 19- 16122, Order at 6 (9th Cir. Aug. 23, 2019) (recognizing the DOJ and Departments of Energy and Defense all classified this decision as a costly false positive).

Second, the court erred in finding Qualcomm had an antitrust duty to deal with rivals. The evidence adduced could sustain the district court’s ruling through only one theory: an illegal unilateral refusal to deal.2 See Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highland Skiing Corp., 472 U.S. 585 (1985)). But this narrow exception—“at or near the outer boundary of § 2 liability,” Trinko, 540 U.S. at 409—is subject to strict limitations.

Finding a duty to deal requires that the company gave up a profitable course of dealing with rivals and adopted a less profitable alternative. The evidence before the district court uniformly shows that Qualcomm’s challenged practices were more profitable, and thus insufficient to support an antitrust duty to deal.

Finally, because the court didn’t perform a competitive effects analysis, it failed to demonstrate the “substantial” foreclosure of competition required to sustain a claim of anticompetitive exclusion. To avoid the costs of mistaken condemnation, the Court placed tight guardrails around finding exclusionary conduct anticompetitive, requiring foreclosure of “a substantial share of the relevant market.” See Tampa Elec. Co. v. Nashville Coal Co., 365 U.S. 320, 328 (1961). Without this finding, which also may not be inferred, a claim of anticompetitive foreclosure is unsupportable.

In sum, the district court’s approach extends antitrust law beyond the clear boundaries imposed by the Supreme Court and risks deterring significant pro-competitive conduct. If upheld, amici anticipate significant harm from the district court’s decision.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Amazon is not essential

TOTM The following is adapted from a recent ICLE Issue Brief on the flawed essential facilities arguments undergirding the EU competition investigations into Amazon’s marketplace that Kristian Stout wrote with Geoffrey Manne.

Amazon has largely avoided the crosshairs of antitrust enforcers to date. The reasons seem obvious: in the US it handles a mere 5% of all retail sales (with lower shares worldwide), and it consistently provides access to a wide array of affordable goods. Yet, even with Amazon’s obvious lack of dominance in the general retail market, the EU and some of its member states are opening investigations.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Amazon is not essential, except to the EU’s flawed investigations

ICLE Issue Brief Amazon has largely avoided the crosshairs of antitrust enforcers to date (leaving aside the embarrassing dangerous threats of arbitrary enforcement by some US presidential candidates). The reasons seem obvious: in the US it handles a mere 5% of all retail sales (with lower shares in the EU), and it consistently provides access to a wide array of affordable goods.

Summary

Amazon has largely avoided the crosshairs of antitrust enforcers to date (leaving aside the embarrassing dangerous threats of arbitrary enforcement by some US presidential candidates). The reasons seem obvious: in the US it handles a mere 5% of all retail sales (with lower shares in the EU), and it consistently provides access to a wide array of affordable goods. Yet even with Amazon’s obvious lack of dominance in the general retail market, the EU and some of its member states are opening investigations.

This isn’t new: the EU and its member states have pursued many competition claims against the big tech platforms. In the last two years alone, the EU imposed over $9B USD in fines on Google for “harms” that were highly speculative and hard to square with concern for consumers.

The theories of harm in the pending investigations of Amazon demonstrate some of the same confused antitrust theories that cropped up in the EU Google Shopping case. Platforms like Amazon and Google are criticized for allegedly discriminating against certain platform users who are also competitors or potential competitors of one or more of the platform’s services (or, in some cases, the platform itself).

Commissioner Margarethe Vestager’s probe into Amazon came to light in September, and centers on whether Amazon is illegally using its dominant position vis-á-vis third party merchants on its platforms in order to obtain data that it then uses either to promote its own direct sales, or else to develop competing products under its private label brands. More recently, Austria and Germany have launched separate investigations of Amazon rooted in much the same concerns as those of the European Commission.

The Austrian investigation will examine “whether Amazon abused its dominant position against retailers, that are active on the Amazon market place.” According to Andreas Mundt, president of the German competition authority, “Amazon functions as a kind of ‘gatekeeper’ [for sellers’ access] to customers. Its double role as the largest retailer and largest marketplace has the potential to hinder other sellers on its platform.” The German investigation also focuses on whether the terms of the contractual relationships that third-party sellers enter into with Amazon are unfair because these sellers are “dependent” on it.

Claims of competitive harm arising from this so-called vertical discrimination or bias are light on both theory and empirics. One of the fundamental, erroneous assumptions upon which they are built is the alleged “essentiality” of the underlying platform or input. But these cases are more often based on stories of firms that, unfortunately, chose to build their businesses to rely on a specific platform. In other words, their own decisions — from which they substantially benefited — made their investments highly “asset specific” and thus vulnerable to otherwise avoidable risks. When a platform on which these businesses rely makes a disruptive move, the third parties cry foul, even though the platform was not — nor should have been — under any obligation to preserve the status quo on behalf of third parties.

This issue brief explores the flaws in designating Amazon as something like an “essential facility,” as well as the attendant errors of treating the distribution mechanism of Internet-based commerce as though it were a market definition, and the problems with failing to learn the innovation-damaging effects of the Microsoft case.

Click here to read the full issue brief.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Understanding Competition in Markets Involving Data or Personal or Commercial Information (FTC Hearings, ICLE Comment 7)

Written Testimonies & Filings FTC Hearings on Competition & Consumer Protection in the 21 st Century. Comments of the International Center for Law & Economics: Understanding Competition in Markets Involving Data or Personal or Commercial Information. Hearing # 6 (Nov. 6-8, 2018). Submitted January 7, 2019.

Comments of the International Center for Law & Economics”

Markets involving data and personal information have unique characteristics, but do not present such novel challenges that the well-developed tools of antitrust are incapable of incorporating them. Nonetheless, some critics continue to press for misguided antitrust intervention into data markets, often based on fundamental misunderstandings. 

For a start, commonly repeated analogies between data and oil are highly misleading. Oil is physical commodity that is highly rivalrous (a user cannot use oil without impairing others’ ability to use the same oil) and readily excludable (it can easily be stored in ways that prevent use by non-authorized parties). By contrast, data is simply information that bears some of the traits of a public good: it is often non-rivalrous in consumption (the same information may be used by multiple parties without any degradation) and difficult to appropriate because it is difficult to prevent others’ use of the same data, it is difficult to ensure optimal investment in its creation). Moreover, in most instances, it is not data that is scarce, but the expertise required to generate and analyze it. In any case, most successful internet companies started life with little to no data. This suggests that data is more a byproduct of the ongoing operation of internet platforms than it is a critical input for their creation.

Further, data is unlikely to constitute a barrier to entry, and even less likely to amount to an essential facility. As George Stigler famously argued, a barrier to entry is “[a] cost of producing that must be borne by a firm which seeks to enter an industry but is not borne by firms already in the industry.” There is no reason that the cost of obtaining data for a new entrant should be any higher than it was for an incumbent. In fact, the opposite will often turn out to be true.

Other ills that allegedly plague data-rich markets (and the merits of proposed solutions) are equally dubious. This is notably the case for the relationship between mandated data portability and competition. Contrary to what some scholars have advanced, it is far from clear that mandated data portability will increase consumer welfare in data-reliant markets. Not only is this type of portability unlikely to significantly affect switching costs for consumers but, even if it did, this would have ambiguous consumer welfare consequences (as is generally the case for consumer lock-in and regulatory interventions to overcome it). To make matters worse, mandated data portability is not without its risks. Most notably, data portability poses data security and user privacy risks.

Likewise, fears of costly price discrimination and widespread algorithmic collusion are greatly overblown. While it is true that big data may have a transformative effect on firms’ ability to price discriminate, there is no strong reason to believe that this would have a detrimental effect on consumer welfare. Instead, as with all forms of price discrimination, it may potentially expand output and allow less well-off consumers to participate in markets they might otherwise be priced out of. Similarly, the idea that big data and algorithms will lead to collusion is deeply flawed. Fears of collusion rest on the faulty premise that online marketplaces and the use of big data will dramatically increase transparency, thus facilitating collusion. In fact, the opposite is just as likely (and, in any case, the manifest benefits of increased transparency, likely outweigh the speculative costs).

In short, the advent of data-enabled markets does not have implications that support the calls for a significant expansion of antitrust tools and antitrust enforcement being made. Data is not irrelevant, of course, but it is just one amongst a plethora of factors that enforcement authorities and courts should consider when they analyze firms’ behavior.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection