On July 6, 2016, Judge Leonard P. Stark, of the federal district court in Delaware, ordered a $3 million punitive monetary sanction, and an adverse inference jury instruction, against antitrust defendant Plantronics after finding that a top executive at the company had deleted thousands of potentially relevant emails. This case is noteworthy both because of the severity of the sanction and the court’s decision to impute the conduct of an employee to the company even though numerous preservation practices were in place and the employee was instructed not to destroy information.
Where is the line drawn between acquisitions of securities made “solely for the purpose of investment” on one hand, and influencing control, thereby requiring regulatory approval, on the other hand? That is the central cautionary question that was reinforced by the July 12, 2016, Department of Justice (“DOJ”) settlement with ValueAct Capital. The well-known activist investment firm agreed to pay $11 million to settle a suit alleging that it violated the premerger reporting and waiting period requirements of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (“HSR Act”). ValueAct purchased more than $2.5 billion of shares in two oil companies, Baker Hughes Inc. and Halliburton Co., after they announced they would merge. The DOJ alleged that ValueAct used its ownership position to influence the proposed merger and other aspects of Baker Hughes and Halliburton, and thus could not rely on the exemption.
On June 30, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced increases to the maximum civil penalties issuable for violations of several key competition statutes. The agency made these changes to comply with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, which required the agency adjust penalty amounts for laws it enforces based on a methodology provided for by Congress.
For the past several years, plaintiffs and defendants in international price-fixing cases have battled over the extraterritorial application of the Sherman Act in light of the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act of 1982 (“FTAIA”), 15 U.S.C. § 6a, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal decision in F. Hoffman-LaRoche Ltd. v. Empagran, S.A., 542 U.S. 155 (2004). Although the Supreme Court passed on an opportunity to clarify the scope of the FTAIA when it denied petitions for certiorari following decisions in Hsuing v. United States, 778 F.3d 738 (9th Cir. 2014), as amended (Jan. 30, 2015), and Motorola Mobility LLC v. AU Optronics Corp., 775 F.3d 816 (7th Cir. 2014), as amended (Jan. 12, 2015), the Court’s decision in RJR Nabisco v. European Community—which addresses the extraterritorial application of the federal RICO statute—may provide some insight into how it views antitrust claims based on foreign injuries under the FTAIA.
On June 14, 2016, U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso, of the Northern District of Illinois, denied a motion for preliminary injunction by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the Attorney General for the State of Illinois, seeking to block the proposed merger between Advocate Health Care and the NorthShore University Health System (“NorthShore”) in the Chicago metropolitan area. According to Judge Alonso’s opinion released on June 20, the Plaintiffs failed to prove a relevant geographic market, the lack of which the Court deemed fatal to the Plaintiffs’ case.
This loss could be a blow for the FTC’s health care competition enforcement program. It is the agency’s second loss in district court this year in a hospital merger challenge. Additionally, as we noted in our May 13, 2016 blog post concerning the FTC’s earlier loss on the Hershey merger—now on appeal to the Third Circuit—both cases reflect push-back by courts against what to this point have been highly successful FTC market definition and consumer harm arguments in hospital merger cases.
Courts in the Northern District of California, which have been handling price-fixing class actions in the electronics industry for more than a decade, are continuing to develop ground rules about whether defendants in a price-fixing case are entitled to know the amount for which an opt-out Direct Action Plaintiff (DAP) settles its cases against other defendants. On May 27, 2016, Judge Jon S. Tigar overruled objections to a Special Master’s Report and Recommendation compelling two DAPs to disclose settlement amounts in the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Antitrust Litigation, No. 3:07-cv-5944 (N.D. Cal.). Judge Tigar compelled both companies to provide that information to a Special Master so he can determine whether the information should be provided to other defendants to facilitate settlements—even though both companies had already settled all of their claims against all defendants. ECF 4661.
On Monday, June 7, the Supreme Court requested the views of the Solicitor General in connection with a petition for certiorari filed by the U.S. subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline plc (“GSK”) in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. King Drug Co. of Florence, No. 15-1055. The Supreme Court’s request seems less directed to rethinking its seminal ruling in FTC v. Actavis on the lawfulness of “reverse-payment” settlements of Hatch-Waxman cases than to a concern that, in some specific ways, its decision may have created some unintended consequences.
On June 1, 2016, FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen delivered remarks in Hong Kong, pushing back on recent news reports implying that the United States currently suffers from a “monopoly problem” causing a reduction of competition in the marketplace. Recent articles and opinion pieces in The Economist and The New York Times suggest that the consolidation of market power, and lack of antitrust enforcement preventing such consolidation, are having a noticeable effect and harming consumers and innovation. Indeed, the precursor to these reports—an April 14, 2016 report from the Council of Economic Advisers (“CEA”), entitled “Benefits of Competition and Indicators of Market Power,” argues there has been a decline of competition in certain parts of the U.S. economy due the concentration of monopoly power in the hands of a select few players in certain industries (e.g., airlines, cable, networking). The CEA report suggests U.S. agencies should explore how certain factors—the use of Big Data, increased price transparency, and common stock ownership—affect competition. As a result of the CEA report, President Obama issued an Executive Order on April 15, 2016, directing antitrust enforcement agencies to use their authority to “promote competition.”
On May 19, 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC)” issued an important clarification regarding how the agency will determine whether a foreign entity is classified as corporate or non-corporate for the purpose of the agency’s premerger notification program. Under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 (also referred to as the “HSR Act”), parties to certain mergers or acquisitions must notify both the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice prior to consummating the transaction. Under this program, whether a party to the transaction is a corporate or non-corporate entity (e.g., an LLC, partnership) can have significant implications for determining whether a filing is required and whether an exemption might apply. While evaluating party status has historically been straightforward for U.S. entities, foreign entities pose a number of challenges.
You know what they say: one man’s price is another man’s bundle. No? Well maybe they should, after this recent decision out of the Third Circuit in Eisai, Inc. v. Sanofi Aventis U.S., LLC involving allegedly exclusionary discounting. The court ultimately found Sanofi’s conduct was not unlawful. But the decision raises questions about how such conduct – a hybrid of price discounts and single-product bundling – will be treated going forward, at least in the Third Circuit.
At issue was Sanofi’s marketing of its anticoagulant drug Lovenox to hospitals through its Lovenox Acute Contract Value Program. Under the Program, hospitals received price discounts based on the total volume of Lovenox they purchased and the proportion of Lovenox in their overall purchase of anticoagulant drugs. A hospital that chose Lovenox for less than 75% of its total purchase of anticoagulants received a flat 1% discount regardless of the volume purchased. But when a hospital’s purchase of Lovenox exceeded that percentage, it would receive an increasingly higher discount based on total volume and percentage share, up to a total of 30% off the wholesale price. A hospital that did not participate in the Program at all was free to purchase Lovenox “off contract” at the wholesale price.
On May 17, 2016, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) issued a memorandum opinion explaining his decision to enjoin the Office Depot/Staples merger under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act. The court conducted a two-week trial in which the FTC called ten witnesses and 4000 exhibits were admitted into evidence, after which defendants opted to rest. The court found that the FTC “established their prima facie case by demonstrating that Defendants’ proposed merger is likely to reduce competition in the Business to Business (“B-to-B”) contract space for office supplies.” Defendants largely relied on Amazon’s development of on-line B-to-B services to replace or restore any reduction in competition resulting from the merger, but the court found that argument unpersuasive and enjoined the merger.
On April 27, 2016, Invibio—a supplier of polyetheretherketone (“PEEK”) used in medical implants—agreed to settle charges asserted by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) that its exclusive supply contracts with medical device manufacturers, including some of the world’s largest, violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45. This consent decree may signal a renewed interest at the agency to scrutinize exclusive contract arrangements. The decree also serves as a reminder that, while exclusive contracts are not per se unlawful, companies that have market power and use exclusive contracts face risks under the antitrust and consumer protection laws.
On May 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge John Jones III, of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, rejected a motion for preliminary injunction by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the Pennsylvania Attorney General to halt the proposed merger between Penn State Hershey Medical Center (“Hershey”) and PinnacleHealth System (“Pinnacle”). The Court’s decision represents a potential setback for the FTC’s enforcement against hospital consolidation around the country. The opinion raises further questions about recent analyses endorsed by the agency and other federal courts when reviewing hospital mergers. The Court has extended the temporary restraining order in effect until May 27, 2016, to allow the FTC and the Attorney General to seek relief from the 3d Circuit.
On April 14, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice and two West Virginia hospitals entered into a consent decree requiring the hospitals to cease allocating territories for marketing their healthcare services. The complaint and consent decree can be viewed here and here. This consent decree follows a similar consent decree that the DOJ entered into with three Michigan hospitals in June 2015, perhaps signaling the DOJ’s increased focused in policing allegedly anticompetitive agreements among hospitals and medical centers.
For the first time in its 101-year history, the Federal Trade Commission yesterday issued a policy statement outlining the extent of its authority to police “unfair methods of competition” on a “standalone” basis under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. In a terse Statement of Enforcement Principles, the Commission laid out a framework for its Section 5 jurisprudence that was predictably tethered to the familiar antitrust “rule of reason” analysis but also sets forth a potentially expansive approach to enforcement. Indeed, the Commission’s approach could encompass novel enforcement theories premised on acts or practices that “contravene the spirit of the antitrust laws” as well as those incipient acts that, if allowed to mature or complete, “could violate the Sherman or Clayton Act.” Commissioner Ohlhausen’s lone dissent recognizes these potentially disconcerting developments for private industry. READ MORE
On July 30, 2015, the Ninth Circuit issued one of the most significant appellate opinions regarding standard essential patents (SEPs) subject to commitments to license on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND, or simply RAND) terms. In Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc. (Case No. 14-35393), the Court upheld determinations by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart (W.D. Wash.) as to (i) when a member of a Standard Setting Organization (SSO) is obligated to license that member’s SEP on FRAND terms, (ii) what the proper methodology is for calculating a FRAND royalty rate, and (iii) what remedies are available for breach of an obligation to license a SEP on FRAND terms. The affirmance represents a major victory for Microsoft and other SEP licensees, and provides significant guidance regarding future FRAND disputes.
On June 22, 2015, in a 6-3 decision in Kimble et al. v. Marvel Enterprises, LLC, 576 U.S. (2015), the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Brulotte v. Thys, 379 U.S. 29 (1964), that it is per se patent misuse for a patentee to charge royalties for the use of its patent after the patent expires. While acknowledging the weak economic underpinnings of Brulotte, the Court relied heavily on stare decisis and Congressional inaction to overrule Brulotte in also declining to do so itself. Although Kimble leaves Brulotte intact, the decision restates the rule of that case and provides practical guidance to avoid its prohibition on post-expiration royalties. Critically, the Court appears to condone the collection of a full royalty for a portfolio of licenses until the last patent in the portfolio expires. In addition, the Court’s reasoning provides guidance as to how patent licensors can draft licenses to isolate the effect of a later finding that patents conveyed under those licenses were previously exhausted.
On June 17, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania approved a consent order (the “Consent Order”) between the Federal Trade Commission and defendants Cephalon, Inc. and its parent, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., resolved long-running antitrust litigation stemming from four “reverse payment” settlements of Hatch-Waxman patent infringement cases involving the branded drug Provigil®. Pursuant to its settlement with the FTC (the “Consent Order”), Cephalon agreed to disgorge $1.2 billion and to limit the terms of any future settlements of Hatch-Waxman cases. The FTC and its Staff have celebrated and promoted the terms of the settlement as setting a new standard for resolving reverse-payment cases. But their enthusiasm may be more wishful thinking than reality, and their speculation that the agreement may exert force on market behavior does not appear to be supported by a fair assessment of the state of the law. First, the restrictions on Cephalon’s ability to enter into settlements of Hatch-Waxman cases exceed anything a court has ever required, and conflict with settlement terms apparently approved in the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal reverse-payment decision, Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis, 133 S. Ct. 2223 (2013). Second, the FTC’s use of disgorgement as a remedy remains controversial and Cephalon, despite initial opposition, might have voluntarily embraced that remedy as part of a strategy to achieve a global resolution of remaining private litigation. We write to put the Consent Order in perspective, so that industry participants can better assess its meaning.
In late May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued the first appellate decision addressing the pharmaceutical industry practice called by some “product hopping”—a two-step process in which a drug approaching the end of its patent term is withdrawn or made less desirable to customers so that patients will switch to a successor product with more exclusivity remaining. In this way, drug manufacturers may seek to protect sales from generic competition. “Product hopping” cases are often analyzed under the antitrust rules developed to assess claims of “predatory innovation” or related conduct, as exemplified by well-known cases involving Microsoft and Kodak. In this article, just published in Law360, lawyers from Orrick’s Intellectual Property and Antitrust groups weigh in on the Second Circuit’s decision, focusing on aspects of the analysis that may not be applicable in different cases and contexts.
Last week, in In re Cipro Cases I & II, Case No. S198616, the Supreme Court of California adopted the United States Supreme Court’s application of the Rule of Reason to the antitrust analysis of so-called “reverse payment” patent settlements (and rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that settlement payments exceeding the costs of litigation or other services are per se unlawful), but also set forth a specific “structured” Rule of Reason analysis to be applied in analyzing such settlements. A copy of the decision can be found here.