Antitrust law

 

Antitrust law, also known as competition law, regulates competition between businesses. Antitrust law is heavily entrenched in European law because it is integral to the central ethos of the European Community that goods and people should be able to move freely across European borders without facing improper competition or competitive restrictions.

What is the law on antitrust?

EU antitrust law regulates the exercise of market power by economic entities and governments within the European Union. EU antitrust law is essential to the effective running of the EU as it helps to ensure that the basic principles of the EU can be upheld, such as:

  • Free movement of goods
  • Free movement of services
  • Free movement of people

There are a few main articles in the EC treaty that have a large effect on antitrust law within the European Union, including:

  • Article 81 EC
  • Article 82 EC

Article 81

EU antitrust law regulates cartels under Article 81 of the EC Treaty. Article 81 makes it illegal:

  • To fix prices
  • Control production to force prices up

If entities are considering entering into an agreement then they must first decide for themselves whether the actions come within what is allowed by Article 81. If they decide that it does come within competition laws then the decision can be challenged by national competition authorities, the European Commission or by national courts.

Article 82   

Article 82 of the EC Treaty makes it illegal:

  • For an entity to abuse a dominant position
  • For monopolies to operate in the EU

Article 82 is an important article in EU antitrust law and one which business entities should be acutely aware of.

The difficulty with Article 82 is defining the relevant market. An entity can have a small share of one market, for example the cat food market, yet the business entity may have a monopoly on another market, such as the dry cat food market.

A distinction must also be drawn between an undertaking taking advantage of a hard-won dominant position and an undertaking that illegitimately abuses their dominant position.

Who is affected by antitrust law?

This largely affects monopolies, although it is not essential that the offending business is a monopoly. One of the key points in establishing whether a business is abusing a dominant position is establishing the market that the business is supposedly dominating.

Establishing the market is not an easy task, but the general rule is that if a product is interchangeable with another product then it is part of the same market.

European antitrust law is of importance for all businesses and every business should be aware of their rights and responsibilities under it. Article 81 EC is likely to be of much more importance than Article 82 EC as it can be applied to any contract or agreement that any business makes.

Why use a solicitor?

It is possible to bring antitrust litigation (a lawsuit) against another business that appears to be breaking competition laws, as they stand at the moment. In the USA, Microsoft has been taken to court on more than one occasion under anti-competition law.

In the UK, the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) is the body that would bring any antitrust litigation against a company it thinks is breaking the competition laws.

If your business is accused of anti-competitive behaviour, this is a serious accusation and should be treated as such. Because anti-competitive behaviour can have wide-reaching consequences not only for your individual business, but also the market your enterprise trades within, you must obtain qualified legal support to help you fight the antitrust litigation you have become involved in.

Antitrust litigation can be highly complex. Solicitors who handle antitrust litigation cases tend to specialise in these types of cases, and they will generally be part of larger law firms which will specialise in specific market sectors. We work with many of these firms across the country and can help find the right one for you.

For further advice on EU competition laws, see our information page about competition law.

Do you have an EU antitrust law matter, and are looking for a solicitor to represent you? We can put you in touch with a specialist EU lawyer who can assist you in dealing with any accusations of competitive behaviour, or help you bring a claim against another business who is restricting the trade of your business. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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