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Making Sense of the Google Android Decision

ICLE White Paper The European Commission’s recent Google Android decision will go down as one of the most important competition proceedings of the past decade. Yet, in-depth reading . . .

The European Commission’s recent Google Android decision will go down as one of the most important competition proceedings of the past decade. Yet, in-depth reading of the 328-page decision leaves attentive readers with a bitter taste. The problem is simple: while the facts adduced by the Commission are arguably true, the normative implications it draws—and thus the bases for its action—are largely conjecture.

This paper argues that the Commission’s decision is undermined by unsubstantiated claims and non sequiturs, the upshot of which is that the Commission did not establish that Google had a “dominant position” in an accurately defined market, or that it infringed competition and harmed consumers. The paper analyzes the Commission’s reasoning on questions of market definition, barriers to entry, dominance, theories of harm, and the economic evidence adduced to support the decision.

Section I discusses the Commission’s market definition It argues that the Commission produced insufficient evidence to support its conclusion that Google’s products were in a different market than Apple’s alternatives.

Section II looks at the competitive constraints that Google faced. It finds that the Commission wrongly ignored the strong competitive pressure that rivals, particularly Apple, exerted on Google. As a result, it failed to adequately establish that Google was dominant – a precondition for competition liability under article 102 TFEU.

Section III focuses on Google’s purported infringements. It argues that Commission failed to convincingly establish that Google’s behavior prevented its rivals from effectively reaching users of Android smartphones. This is all the more troubling when one acknowledges that Google’s contested behavior essentially sought to transpose features of its rivals’ closed platforms within the more open Android ecosystem.

Section IV reviews the main economic arguments that underpin the Commission’s decision. It finds that the economic models cited by the Commission poorly matched the underlying fact patterns. Moreover, the Commission’s arguments on innovation harms were out of touch with the empirical literature on the topic.

In short, the Commission failed to adequately prove that Google infringed European competition law. Its decision thus sets a bad precedent for future competition intervention in the digital sphere.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Making Sense of the Google Android Decision (part 3): Where is the Harm?

TOTM This is the third in a series of TOTM blog posts discussing the Commission’s recently published Google Android decision. It draws on research from a soon-to-be published ICLE white paper.

For the third in my series of posts about the Google Android decision, I will delve into the theories of harm identified by the Commission.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Making Sense of the Google Android Decision (part 2): Ignoring Google’s Competitors

TOTM This is the second in a series of TOTM blog posts discussing the Commission’s recently published Google Android decision. It draws on research from a soon-to-be published ICLE white paper.

In a previous post, I argued that the Commission failed to adequately define the relevant market in its recently published Google Android decision.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Making Sense of the Google Android Decision (part 1): Four Problems with the EU Commission’s Market Definition

TOTM This is the first in a series of TOTM blog posts discussing the Commission’s recently published Google Android decision. It draws on research from a soon-to-be published ICLE white paper.

The European Commission’s recent Google Android decision will surely go down as one of the most important competition proceedings of the past decade. And yet, an in-depth reading of the 328 page decision should leave attentive readers with a bitter taste.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Submission on the final report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry

Written Testimonies & Filings In a submission to the Australian Treasury on 12 September 2019, a group of esteemed international scholars critiqued the recently published Final Report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry.

In a submission to the Australian Treasury on 12 September 2019, a group of esteemed international scholars critiqued the recently published Final Report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry. 

In its report, the ACCC claims that competition in the media, communications, advertising and other markets it investigated is “not working,”  and that substantial regulatory and legislative changes are necessary to solve—and would solve—the  problems caused by ineffective competition.  

But the premise that competition is not working is not well supported by evidence presented in the report. Meanwhile, the report’s conclusion misses the bigger picture: Government intervention is appropriate only if it produces net social benefits. Yet the ACCC almost entirely omits consideration of the adverse effects of its proposed interventions, which in many cases are likely worse than the alleged problems. As such, the report’s proposals should be treated with great caution.

The submission tackles three “significant oversights”: 

  1. The ACCC’s recommendations on “platform neutrality” and the proposed creation of a “digital platforms branch” underestimate the limits of regulators’ ability to identify market failure and the major difficulties that regulators face when attempting to design markets. For instance, the ACCC recommends that Google be forced to introduce browser and search engine choice screens. Yet it is not clear that the introduction of such screens will either accelerate the entry of competitors or improve users’ experience. 
  2. The ACCC’s attempts to prop up local media firms (through subsidies and other means) appears to be driven by nostalgia for a bygone, pre-modern era, rather than a rigorous assessment of the costs and benefits of media regulation. The ACCC is quick to assume that its recommendations would produce tangible benefits for consumers, but it overlooks the potential market distortions—and impediments to ongoing innovation—that might be generated in the process.
  3. The report’s recommended extension of Australia’s privacy legislation completely ignores the tremendous compliance costs that doing so would impose on firms and, indirectly, on consumers. The recent introduction of privacy legislation in the EU and California suggests that these compliance costs might well outstrip the benefits to users.

The submission notes in conclusion that “The ACCC’s lackadaisical assessment of regulatory costs is all-the-more troubling given that its report focuses on an extremely dynamic industry. What is only a small regulatory cost today could severely hamper competition in the future.”

 

Click here to read the full submission.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

The Digital Policy of the Next EU Commission: All roads Lead to Margrethe Vestager

TOTM If the EU wants to turn itself into a digital economy powerhouse, it will have to switch towards light-touch regulation that allows firms to experiment with disruptive services, flexible employment options, and novel monetization strategies.

Ursula von der Leyen has just announced the composition of the next European Commission. For tech firms, the headline is that Margrethe Vestager will not only retain her job as the head of DG Competition, she will also oversee the EU’s entire digital markets policy in her new role as Vice-President in charge of digital policy. Her promotion within the Commission as well as her track record at DG Competition both suggest that the digital economy will continue to be the fulcrum of European competition and regulatory intervention for the next five years.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

In FTC v. Qualcomm, Judge Koh Gets Lost in the Weeds

TOTM TOTM: The following is the eighth in a series of posts by TOTM guests and authors on the FTC v. Qualcomm case recently decided by Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California. The blog post is based on a forthcoming paper regarding patent holdup, co-authored by Dirk Auer and Julian Morris.

In his latest book, Tyler Cowen calls big business an “American anti-hero”. Cowen argues that the growing animosity towards successful technology firms is to a large extent unwarranted. After all, these companies have generated tremendous prosperity and jobs.

Read the full piece here.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Governing the Patent Commons

ICLE White Paper We suggest that antitrust authorities and courts should draw inspiration from acclaimed scholarship regarding both the evolution of cooperation and the management of common-pool resources.

Thousands of patents underpin the technologies that power the digital economy. Coordination among firms developing and implementing these novel technologies has notably been facilitated in large part by Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs). Despite the evident benefits of standardization in general and SDOs in particular, certain aspects of these processes have come under severe scrutiny from scholars, antitrust authorities and courts. These critics argue that the standardization space suffers from two crippling market failures, namely “patent holdup” and “royalty stacking”. They thus conclude that opportunistic firms will squeeze their rivals’ profits, harming consumers and stifling innovation in the process. However, recent empirical scholarship strongly suggests that patent holdup and royalty stacking rarely, if ever, occur in the standardization space.

Against this checkered backdrop, our paper argues that standardization is an emergent phenomenon, where parties have strong incentives to design institutions and contractual relationships that mitigate the scope for opportunistic behavior (including patent holdup and royalty stacking). The paper explores how these incentives have likely enabled firms to avoid severe market failures. We argue that ignoring these complex market dynamics may cause antitrust authorities and courts to do more harm than good (notably by exacerbating patent holdout behavior). The paper then reviews recent regulatory interventions and questions whether this has indeed been the case. Finally, we suggest that antitrust authorities and courts should draw inspiration from acclaimed scholarship regarding both the evolution of cooperation and the management of common-pool resources.

“The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effect of the division of labour.”

Adam Smith

Click here to read the full paper.

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Intellectual Property & Licensing

Concluding Comments: The Weaknesses of Interventionist Claims (FTC Hearings, ICLE Comment 11)

Written Testimonies & Filings FTC Hearings on Competition & Consumer Protection in the 21st Century. Comments of the International Center for Law & Economics: Summing Up the FTC Hearings: Advocates for Increased Antitrust Intervention Failed to Make Their Case. Submitted Jun 30, 2019.

These comments represent ICLE’s review and commentary of the detailed record set forth during the FTC’s Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century. The hearings — and these comments — covered a wide range of topics from data security and privacy, to horizontal and vertical merger policy, anticompetitive unilateral behavior, and a host of contemporary issues that have arisen around the question of whether antitrust law is capable of dealing with potential harms to competition from modern firms. 

Specifically, the summary comments deal with the following topics.

I. The Consumer Welfare Standard

Opponents of the consumer welfare standard seek to return antitrust to the bygone era of courts arbitrarily punishing firms for successfully outcompeting their rivals or simply growing “too large.” The Commission should tread carefully before incorporating these ideas, which, during the course of its evolution in the 20th century, antitrust law carefully and correctly selected out.

II. Vertical Mergers

Based on the testimony heard during the hearings, there is no need to change the non-horizontal merger guidelines. If anything, vertical merger review should be pared back out of a recognition that the failure to account for dynamic effects (and the inherent difficulty of doing so) means it is likely that pro-competitive mergers are being deterred.

III. Vertical Discrimination

Concerns regarding vertical discrimination are predicated on the erroneous assumption that big tech platforms might be harming competition by favoring their content over that of their complementors. Not only is this fear overblown, but even the harms alleged are frequently ambiguous and provide benefits to some consumers.

IV. Technology Platforms and Innovation

Much of the analysis of popular technology companies is predicated on traditional market definition analysis, which infers future substitution possibilities from existing or past market conditions. This leads to overly-narrow market definitions and erroneous market power determinations. Thus, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are assumed — erroneously — to be unassailable monopolies.

V. Data Competition and Privacy

Data is a valuable input for companies competing in the digital economy. It is not, however, a magic bullet or holy grail, as some commenters suggested. As with other assets, companies can use data in both pro-competitive and anti-competitive ways. “Big data” may be a new term, but it does not pose unique problems for competition policy.

Click here to read the full concluding comments.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection