February 24, 2010

DOT Tentatively Approves American Airlines and British Airways Joint Venture

The U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) has issued a show-cause order that tentatively approves the antitrust immunity application for the joint venture between members of the oneworld airline alliance, including American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia.  The tentative approval applies to transatlantic traffic, which American Airlines and British Airways dominate for routes between the U.S. and the U.K.

For approval, the DOT required the oneworld alliance to give up four daily landing slots at Heathrow Airport near London.  This requirement represents a much less demanding concession from American Airlines and British Airways than requested for previous immunity applications.  For example, in 2002, the DOT requested that the alliance give up 14 daily landing slots and remove certain routes from the ambit of the antitrust immunity application, i.e., “carve outs,” so that antitrust liability would still apply to those city pairs.

American Airlines and Japan Airlines, which is also a oneworld member, have also applied for antitrust immunity for transpacific routes.  That application is still pending before the DOT.

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Categories: Antitrust Enforcement

    February 22, 2010

    The Great Google Books Settlement Debate

    The fate of the massive digital library that Google hopes to create now lies in the hands of U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who heard nearly a full day of oral argument on Thursday from supporters and opponents of the proposed settlement agreement that would settle the class action brought on behalf of authors and publishers against Google Book Search.

    The parties in The Authors’ Guild, et al. v. Google Inc. are moving for court approval of a class action settlement that would allow Google to provide varying degrees of access to a vast body of information, including subscriptions to its 12-million book library and displaying snippets of out-of-print books that are still covered by copyright.

    After informing the parties and two courtrooms full of supporters and objectors that he would not rule on the motion that day, Judge Chin heard a veritable great debate over whether proposed settlement would benefit or harm consumers, authors and publishers.

    Supporters of the settlement argued the benefits include public access to books including out-of print books and orphan works, locating rights holders for unclaimed works, and access for the digitally disenfranchised and visually impaired.

    Opponents argued the settlement raised a plethora of issues, including raising antitrust concerns, violations of copyright law, and even jurisdictional and notice issues.

    The hearing began with arguments from non-party supporters of the settlement.  click here for more »

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    Categories: Antitrust Litigation

      February 18, 2010

      Broadcom Disparages Monopolization By Disparagement Claim As Just Words

      Sticks and stones may break your bones, but disparagement will hardly ever monopolize your market, is the message of Broadcom Corporation’s motion to dismiss a “monopolization-by-disparagement” case brought by its competitor Emulex Corporation.

      The case, Emulex Corp. et al. v. Broadcom Corp. et al., No. SACV 09-1310 JVS (ANx), centers on statements Broadcom allegedly made during a 2009 attempt at a hostile takeover of Emulex, a competing communications technology company. Broadcom allegedly accused Emulex of “underperformance” and “unsatisfactory results” (among other shortcomings), and advised customers not to buy Emulex products.

      This antitrust complaint, which Emulex filed in the Central District of California in November 2009, is Emulex’s third effort to recover for Broadcom’s statements. Its first effort was a complaint in California Superior Court alleging common law fraud and interference with contractual relations. Its second effort was a previous complaint in the Central District of California, alleging violations of the Securities Act. Emulex dismissed those cases when Broadcom withdrew its tender offer. click here for more »

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      Categories: Antitrust Law and Monopolies

        February 15, 2010

        Big Companies Experiencing The Joys And Heartaches Of The Antitrust Underdog

        Can antitrust law protect big companies as well as small companies and consumers?

        An increasing number of large companies are discovering – as plaintiffs – that the answer is yes.

        Many practitioners ascribe to the following paradigm: Antitrust enforcement is an anathema to large companies.  They point to the fact that big companies, like Microsoft, AT&T and Verizon, have repeatedly fought private plaintiffs and antitrust enforcers as defendants/respondents in civil antitrust proceedings.  But if antitrust enforcement represents inefficient, costly and intrusive forays into nullifying acts taken in an otherwise “free market,” why are these same large companies now seeking the assistance of antitrust enforcement?

        Microsoft bitterly complains about Google’s dominance in Internet search, and phone companies balk at the market power of cable providers when they challenge them in video-programming and broadband markets.  One can imagine that these big company complainants, who formerly argued that plaintiffs had to satisfy high evidentiary thresholds to succeed in a monopoly maintenance or attempted monopoly case, are now revisiting that position.

        Is this ironic?  Should any complaints by these large companies be given any credence in light of these companies’ former hostility to enforcement?  One would think that they should be given the same consideration as any other antitrust complaint.  If these complaints raise facts and economic theories that are consistent with the pro-consumer rationale at the heart of the Sherman Act, enforcers should act upon them.

        Practitioners that specialize in antitrust enforcement may find large companies to be unlikely allies, yet still welcome their efforts to act as private attorneys general in the arena of antitrust enforcement, particularly as government enforcement efforts may be constrained in the future by our nation’s large deficit.

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        Categories: Antitrust Enforcement, Antitrust Law and Monopolies

          February 11, 2010

          MP3 Player Plaintiffs Go For Third Bite At The Apple

          Plaintiffs in The Apple iPod iTunes Anti-Trust Litigation – a putative class action accusing Apple of anti-competitive conduct in the portable MP3 player market – are hoping the third time’s the charm as they again seek to convince the court they have a viable claim.

          The plaintiffs have filed an amended complaint after the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California twice rejected claims that the relationship between iTunes and iPod products constituted illegal tying.

          The amended complaint argues that the relationship between Apple’s iTunes and iPod products constitutes unlawful maintenance of monopoly power and attempted monopolization under the Sherman Act, and also violates various California statutes.

          According to the plaintiffs, consumers paid a higher price for iPods than they would have if competing devices had the capability to play songs from the iTunes store.  However, while the plaintiffs claim iPods are the only portable player on which songs purchased from iTunes can be played, such songs can still be played on a non-portable basis (such as directly through a computer, or through a computer linked to a receiver).  This ability of consumers to purchase and play iTunes songs without ever purchasing an iPod is the primary reason the court previously rejected plaintiffs’ tying claims.

          It will be interesting to watch whether the plaintiffs’ reformed complaint survives court scrutiny.  This is especially true in light of the plaintiffs’ attempt to pursue monopolization claims against two products that the court has already ruled are not illegally tied.

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          Categories: Antitrust Law and Monopolies

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