Antitrust Out of Focus: The FTC Misses the Mark In Dogged Pursuit of 1-800’s Trademark Settlements
On November 14, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (“Commission”) issued an opinion condemning as an antitrust violation trademark settlement agreements between 1-800 Contacts (“1-800”) and fourteen online sellers of contact lenses. The settlement agreements arise from trademark infringement claims brought by 1-800 against these online rivals. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons authored the Commission’s opinion, joined by the two Democratic Commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter. In finding that the settlement agreements violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, Chairman Simons and the majority commit two critical errors—one legal, the other economic—that render the Commission’s opinion, in our view, highly vulnerable to reversal upon its inevitable appeal. With respect to the legal infirmity, the Commission incorrectly concludes the challenged agreements are “inherently suspect,” and applies a truncated rule of reason analysis to assess whether the agreements harmed competition. As explained in Commissioner Noah Phillips’ dissent, a truncated analysis is not supported in this case either by judicial experience or economic learning, and was thus inappropriately applied. The second error is application of an economic analysis to claim the agreements have caused anticompetitive effects that falls woefully short of evidence of consumer injury. We predict reversal by an appellate court.