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Focus Antitrust - 26 March 2014

In the News

European Commission imposes fines on participants in automotive bearings cartel

The European Commission has imposed fines totalling over €953 million on participants in a cartel in the automotive bearings sector.

The Commission held that between April 2004 and July 2011, two European companies (SKF and Schaeffler) and four Japanese companies (JTEKT, NSK, NFC and NTN) secretly colluded to co-ordinate their pricing strategy in respect of automotive customers throughout the EEA.

JTEKT received full immunity from fines under the Commission's leniency policy, whilst each of the other companies engaged in the settlement procedure and accordingly benefitted from a 10% fine reduction, in addition to leniency reductions. 

General Court delivers judgment on Reagen’s request for access to Commission documents in heat stabilisers cartel

The General Court has delivered its judgment in respect of an action by Reagens seeking the annulment of the European Commission’s decision to refuse it access to certain documents relating to the heat stabilisers cartel.

As the addressee of the cartel decision, Reagens requested, but was refused access to, certain documents relating to applications made by two other cartel participants concerning their alleged inability to pay fines.

The Commission further refused to disclose to Reagens its own requests for further information and the undertakings' replies to those requests. The General Court did not consider that the non-confidential versions of the undertakings' initial inability to pay requests and the Commission's standard first request for further information were covered by the exception from disclosure relating to protection of commercial information.

However, the Commission was entitled to conclude that the undertakings' responses to the first questionnaire, the second targeted and specific questionnaires sent by the Commission, and the undertakings' replies to those questionnaires were protected from disclosure. 

European Commission adopts revised competition regime for technology transfer agreements

The European Commission has adopted a new technology transfer block exemption regulation (TTBER) and revised guidelines on the application of Article 101 TFEU to technology transfer agreements. The revised regulation does not make radical changes to the current rules, with the most significant changes having been made to restrictions excluded from the scope of the block exemption.

Specifically, all exclusive grant-back obligations will now fall outside the block exemption, as will clauses allowing the licensor to terminate where a licensee challenges the validity of the licensed technology (unless the licence is exclusive). The new block exemption regulation will apply from 1 May 2014 until 30 April 2026.


Articles 101 and 102
  • Officials of the European Commission and their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities have conducted dawn raids at the premises of companies active in the automotive exhausts industry in several member states, following concerns that they may have breached Article 101 and/or Article 102 of the TFEU.  
  • The General Court has dismissed an appeal against the European Commission's decision on the heat stabilisers cartel by Faci. The General Court rejected Faci’s allegations that the Commission had made a manifest error in finding that Faci had colluded to fix prices and allocate markets and customers. Further, the General Court did not consider that the Commission had infringed the principles of equal treatment, good administration and proportionality, particularly in respect of the fine imposed on Faci.
  • The European Commission has published in the Official Journal a summary of its decision to make legally binding commitments offered by Deutsche Bahn to resolve competition concerns about its pricing system for traction current in Germany.


Competition Commission
  • The CC has published its provisional decision on the jurisdictional question remitted by the CAT in respect of the Group Eurotunnel/SeaFrance merger inquiry. The CC has provisionally concluded that the collection of tangible and intangible assets acquired meets the legal definition of an "enterprise", in that together they constitute the activities or part of the activities of a business. The CC accordingly considers that, in this case, two enterprises did cease to be distinct, therefore allowing the CC jurisdiction to review the merger.
  • The OFT has issued a decision finding that Hamsard (and its subsidiaries Quantum and Tomms Pharmacy), and Celesio AG (and its subsidiary, Lloyds), have infringed the Chapter I prohibition of the Competition Act 1998, by having entered into a market sharing agreement in relation to the supply of prescription medicines to care homes in England, between May 2011 and November 2011. Following a settlement agreement in December, Hamsard agreed to pay a maximum fine of £387,856. Hamsard was granted an additional reduction in fine because of further development of its competition compliance programme, reducing the final fine imposed to £370,226. Since Celesio/Lloyds brought the matter to the OFT's attention, it benefitted from full immunity from fines under the OFT's leniency policy.
  • The OFT has decided to refer the completed acquisition by Alliance Medical Limited of manufacturing assets of IBA Molecular UK Limited (used to produce Fluorodeoxyglucose 18F (FDG-18)) to the CC under the Enterprise Act 2002. The OFT was concerned that in the south of England there is only one other supplier and the parties have high combined market shares, such that the merger could lead to an increase in the price of FDG-18 and a decline in the reliability of supplies.
  • Following its market study, the OFT has found that competition could work better in the purchase and supply of ICT products and services to the public sector. The OFT considers that certain structural features of the market (particularly barriers to switching, entry and expansion) could give suppliers some market power, and recommends these concerns be addressed through the public sector improving the way it procures and manages contracts with suppliers, and through suppliers being more transparent with their public sector customers.

This article was written by Paul Stone.  

For more information please contact Paul on +44 (0)20 7203 5110 or paul.stone@crsblaw.com