Sep

30

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : September 30, 2009

As noted in the June 29, 2009 Post, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Seventh Circuit’s decision in American Needle v. Nat’l Football League.  As explained in the September 4, 2008 Post, American Needle applied the Copperweld doctrine to a sports league’s joint licensing scheme for the first time. In so doing, it affirmed summary judgment in favor of the NFL, its teams and Reebok in an antitrust challenge to an exclusive license of team names and logos to Reebok for use on headwear.  (The decision is linked to the September 4 Post).  As explained in Wild, et al., “Private Equity Groups Under Common Legal Control Constitute a Single Enterprise Under the Antitrust Laws,” 3 NYU Journal of Law and Business 231, 237 and n.31 (attached under articles above), that doctrine treats two or more firms that are under common ownership or have a unity of interest in a common course of action as a single firm incapable of conspiring or otherwise acting collectively under the antitrust laws.

In their amici curiae brief, the government urges reversal.  It argues that the Seventh Circuit extended the Copperweld doctrine in a manner inconsistent with prior precedent — e.g., Texaco Inc. v. Dagher, 547 U.S. 1 (2006), in which the Supreme Court applied the rule of reason to a price-setting joint venture and NCAA v. Board of Regents, 468 U.S. 85 (1984), in which the Supreme Court applied a “quick look” to a NCAA restriction on each individual college’s right to broadcast their football games.  While the government conceded that the league should be entitled to Copperweld immunity under circumstances in which the teams need to cooperate such as to produce games, the licensing of NFL team logos is not one of them.  Indeed, the government observed that the NFL joint licensing scheme was similar to the type of scheme under review in Broadcast Music, Inc. v. CBS, 441 U.S. 1 (1979).  In BMI, the Supreme Court applied the rule of reason to a joint venture in which composers created a clearinghouse to sell a blanket license to works by more than one of them.   The American Antitrust Institute and Consumer Federation of America also filed a brief as amici curiae urging reversal.  Their brief and the government’s brief are linked below.  DOJ and FTC BriefAAI Brief

Aug

12

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : August 12, 2009

On August 6, 2009, the New York Times reported that Major League Baseball granted an exclusive license to Topps for baseball cards.  To justify its legality under the antitrust laws, the MLB Executive Vice President is quoted as having relied on the recent Seventh Circuit decision in American Needle v. NFL, under review by the Supreme Court, which upheld a similar licensing scheme implemented by the NFL with respect to headwear (see September 4, 2008, February 24, 2009 and June 29, 2009 Posts).  In that case, the Seventh Circuit held that the NFL was shielded from liability under the Copperweld doctrine.  The Court reasoned that because “the teams share a vital economic interest in collectively promoting all of NFL football,” they could not conspire within the meaning of the antitrust laws when jointly marketing a license that no one time could sell by itself.  MLB’s reliance on American Needle might be unnecessary, however, in light of the Second Circuit’s decision in Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., No. 06-1867 (2d Cir. Sept. 12, 2008) (see October 6, 2008 Post).  In that case, the Second Circuit upheld MLB’s exclusive licensing of team logos under the rule of reason.  Although it would be easier to obtain immunity under the Copperweld doctrine than litigate a full blown rule of reason case, the MLB should take comfort in the fact that two circuits would uphold the licensing scheme regardless of which rationale is applied.

Aug

03

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : August 3, 2009

Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, resigned today from Apple’s board of directors because the increased competition between Google and Apple raised conflicts for him that precluded his participation in many of Apple’s business decisions.  It is unclear whether his resignation was in response to an inquiry by the FTC into Google’s and Apple’s interlocking directorates first reported on May 5, 2009 by the New York Times.  Section 8 of the Clayton Act forbids competitors from having common directors and has been interpreted broadly.  Nevertheless, it is a toothless statute that is rarely enforced and imposes no penalties for violations.  The offending director must simply resign from one board.  In this case, it is unclear whether the FTC has undertaken to enforce the statute as Arthur Levison remains on the boards of Google and Apple.  His presence on both boards would seem to violate Section 8.  It should be noted, however, that the genuine issue that can arise from interlocking directorates is that it can provide circumstantial proof of a conspiracy in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  If the two firms engage in parallael conduct, for example, plaintiffs might allege that the companies had an opportunity to conspire through the common directors.  Thus, antitrust practitioners advise companies to avoid interlocking directorates where meaningful competition between the two companies exists.

Jun

30

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : June 30, 2009

In another blow to the Antitrust Division’s criminal section, two scrap metal dealers were acquitted of price-fixing on June 25, 2009.  The jury returned its verdict in less than four hours.  As reported in the November 16 and March 15, 2008 Posts, the Antitrust Division has lost a number of high profile price-fixing trials including in the magazine paper, DRAM and marine hose cartels.  The trials involving the magazine paper and marine hose cartels likewise resulted in quick acquittals with the jury returning not guilty verdicts in both cases in less than two hours.  It should be noted, however, that the class action on behalf of victims of the scrap metal cartel resulted in a $20 million damages verdict, which was affirmed on appeal.  (See May 16, 2008 Post).

Jun

29

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : June 29, 2009

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review American Needle Inc. v. Nat’l Football League, No. 07-4006, 2008 WL 3822782 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2008). As explained in the September 4, 2008 Post, that case applied the Copperweld doctrine to a sports league for the first time. In so doing, it affirmed summary judgment in favor of the NFL, its teams and Reebok in an antitrust challenge to an exclusive license of team names and logos to Reebok for use on headwear.  (The decision is linked to the September 4 Post).  This case’s journey to the Supreme Court was unusual.  As explained in the February 24, 2009 Post, the NFL — the prevailing party — also sought review because it wanted an authoritative decision on the scope of its antitrust liability for league activity.  And the Supreme Court requested the Solicitor General’s view about whether to grant certiorari.  The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed with the Solicitor General’s view and granted certiorari.

May

04

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : May 4, 2009

Maryland has amended its antitrust law to make resale price maintenance agreements per se illegal, thus overruling Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS, 127 S.Ct. 2705 (2007).  In Leegin, the Supreme Court overruled Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U. S. 373 (1911), and held that a resale price maintenance agreement in which the manufacturer requires a reseller to sell at a certain price is no longer a per se violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act but instead is subject to rule of reason analysis.  Application of the rule of reason creates a burden on plaintiffs because they have to show that the restraint had an adverse effect on the relevant market and not just the price of the manufacturer’s goods that were subject to restraint.  This abrupt change in the law has been poorly received by state antitrust authorities.  As reported in the May 23, 2008 Post, 35  state attorneys general petitioned Congress to amend the Sherman Act to overrule Leegin.  And as reported in the March 31, 2009 Post, the state attorneys general of New York, Illinois and Michigan obtained a consent decree against Herman Miller in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for resale price maintenance involving the Aeron chair.  Their position was that their state antitrust law do not recognize the departure by Leegin and still provide that resale price maintenance is a per se offense.


Feb

24

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : February 24, 2009

The September 4, 2008 Post examined a recent Seventh Circuit decision that held that the NFL was immune under the antitrust laws for its exclusive licensing of team logos on headwear to Reebok.  American Needle Inc. v. Nat’l Football League, No. 07-4006, 2008 WL 3822782 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2008).  The Supreme Court has just expressed an interest in reviewing the case.  It has “invited” the Solicitor General to “file briefs expressing the views of the United States.”  This case is also unusual because both parties sought Supreme Court review.  Although it won below, the NFL sought Supreme Court review so that its potential antitrust liability for league activity will no longer depend on which Circuit it is sued.

Feb

17

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : February 17, 2009

In January 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district decision granting a motion to dismiss an action alleging that defendants “conspired to influence the FCC.”  The Court held that such activity cannot give rise to antitrust liability under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.  Kahn v. iBiquity Digital Corp., No. 07-0475-cv, 2009 WL 102810 (2d Cir. Jan. 15, 2009).  That doctrine provides immunity for, among other things, lobbying the government including agencies which is precisely what the defendants were alleged to have done.  In another case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld application of the Noerr-Pennington doctrine in Kaiser Health Foundation, Inc. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., Nos. 06-55687, 06-55748, 2009 WL 69269 (Jan. 13, 2009).  This time defendant’s commencement of litigation against generic drug manufacturers was protected.  The Noerr-Pennington doctrine also shields litigation as a basis for antitrust liability unless it is “sham” litigation.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the monopolization claims based on Abbott’s seventeen patent infringement lawsuits against generic drug manufacturers noting that it could hardly be sham litigation when Abbott prevailed in seven of them and Abbott “had a plausible argument on which it could have prevailed” in the other ten suits.  Id. at *13.  In Wolfe v. City of Anaheim, No. 07-56031, 2008 WL 542079 (9th Cir. Dec. 31, 2008), the Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal on summary judgment based on the Local Government Antitrust Act of 1984, 15 U.S.C. section 35(a).  That statute immunizes municipalities from antitrust damages.  Plaintiff had sought to recover damages from the City of Anaheim for alleged wrongful denial of a taxicab franchise under, inter alia, the Sherman Act.  The statute clearly precluded such liability.

Feb

06

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : February 6, 2009

In a significant victory to antitrust victims, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused to enforce a bar in arbitration contracts that prohibited collective actions.  In re American Express Merchants’ Litigation, No. 06-1871-cv (2d Cir. Jan. 30, 2009) (Amercian Express Merchants Litigation attached).  Plaintiffs were merchants who alleged that American Express tied acceptance of its charge card to its credit cards – it required merchants to accept both cards rather than allowing them to choose to accept only the charge card.  The merchants claim that this tying scheme allowed American Express to charge them supracompetitive fees on American Express credit card purchases in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The merchant agreements had an arbitration provision, which also barred class or collective actions whether in arbitration or otherwise.  The Second Circuit held that such clauses are unenforceable where as here the amount of the potential claims are so small that it would effectively preclude plaintiffs from bringing antitrust actions or arbitration proceedings on their own.  The Court expressly chose not to address whether such restrictions are per se unenforceable in antitrust actions.

Nov

16

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : November 16, 2008

On November 10, 2008, the DOJ Antitrust Division’s criminal section lost another high profile criminal price fixing trial. This time the individual defendant was acquitted of alleged participation in the highly publicized marine hose cartel that had resulted in numerous guilty pleas.  After a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in less than two hours.  Paul Calli, Michael Pasano and Marissel Descalzo of Carlton Fields, P.A. represented the defendant.  (Carlton Fields press release)  The criminal section has lost a number of high profile trials recently — DRAM (hung jury; decision not to re-prosecute) and magazine paper.