In the United States, antitrust law is a collection of federal and state government laws that regulates the conduct and organization of business corporations, generally to promote competition for the benefit of consumers. The main statutes are the Sherman Act of 1890, the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. These Acts serve three major functions. First, Section 1 of the Sherman Act prohibits price-fixing and the operation of cartels, and prohibits other collusive practices that unreasonably restrain trade. Second, Section 7 of the Clayton Act restricts the mergers and acquisitions of organizations that would likely substantially lessen competition. Third, Section 2 of the Sherman Act prohibits the abuse of monopoly power.
Federal antitrust laws provide for both civil and criminal enforcement of antitrust laws. The Federal Trade Commission, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and private parties who are sufficiently affected may all bring civil actions in the courts to enforce the antitrust laws. However, criminal antitrust enforcement is done only by the Justice Department. U.S. states also have antitrust statutes that govern commerce occurring solely within their state borders.
The scope of antitrust laws, and the degree to which they should interfere in an enterprise's freedom to conduct business, or to protect smaller businesses, communities and consumers, are strongly debated. One view, mostly closely associated with the "Chicago School of economics" suggests that antitrust laws should focus solely on the benefits to consumers and overall efficiency, while a broad range of legal and economic theory sees the role of antitrust laws as also controlling economic power in the public interest.
Although "trust" has a specific legal meaning (where one person holds property for the benefit of another), in the late 19th century the word was commonly used to denote big business, because that legal instrument was frequently used to effect a combination of companies. Large manufacturing conglomerates emerged in great numbers in the 1880s and 1890s, and were perceived to have excessive economic power. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 began a shift towards federal rather than state regulation of big business. It was followed by the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, the Robinson–Patman Act of 1936, and the Celler–Kefauver Act of 1950.
In the 1880s, hundreds of small short-line railroads were being bought up and consolidated into giant systems. (Separate laws and policies emerged regarding railroads and financial concerns such as banks and insurance companies.) People for strong antitrust laws argued that, in order for the American economy to be successful, it would require free competition and the opportunity for individual Americans to build their own businesses. As Senator John Sherman put it, "If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life." Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act almost unanimously in 1890, and it remains the core of antitrust policy. The Act prohibits agreements in restraint of trade and abuse of monopoly power. It gives the Justice Department the mandate to go to federal court for orders to stop illegal behavior or to impose remedies.[original research?]
One of the better-known trusts was the Standard Oil Company; John D. Rockefeller in the 1870s and 1880s had used economic threats against competitors and secret rebate deals with railroads to build what was called a monopoly in the oil business, though some minor competitors remained in business. In 1911 the Supreme Court agreed that in recent years (1900–1904) Standard had violated the Sherman Act (see Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States). It broke the monopoly into three dozen separate companies that competed with one another, including Standard Oil of New Jersey (later known as Exxon and now ExxonMobil), Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco), Standard Oil Company of New York (Mobil, again, later merged with Exxon to form ExxonMobil), of California (Chevron), Cleveland-based SOHIO - the parent of the trust, and so on. In approving the breakup the Supreme Court added the "rule of reason": not all big companies, and not all monopolies, are evil; and the courts (not the executive branch) are to make that decision. To be harmful, a trust had to somehow damage the economic environment of its competitors.
United States Steel Corporation, which was much larger than Standard Oil, won its antitrust suit in 1920 despite never having delivered the benefits to consumers that Standard Oil did. In fact, it lobbied for tariff protection that reduced competition, and so contending that it was one of the "good trusts" that benefited the economy is somewhat doubtful. Likewise International Harvester survived its court test, while other monopolies were broken up in tobacco, meatpacking, and bathtub fixtures. Over the years hundreds of executives of competing companies who met together illegally to fix prices went to federal prison.
American hostility to big business began to decrease after the Progressive Era. For example, Ford Motor Company dominated auto manufacturing, built millions of cheap cars that put America on wheels, and at the same time lowered prices, raised wages, and promoted manufacturing efficiency. Welfare capitalism made large companies an attractive place to work; new career paths opened up in middle management; local suppliers discovered that big corporations were big purchasers. Talk of trust busting faded away. Under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, the government in the 1920s promoted business cooperation, fostered the creation of self-policing trade associations, and made the FTC an ally of "respectable business".
The printing equipment company ATF explicitly states in its 1923 manual that its goal is to 'discourage unhealthy competition' in the printing industry.
During the New Deal, attempts were made to stop cutthroat competition. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was a short-lived program in 1933–35 designed to strengthen trade associations, and raise prices, profits and wages at the same time. The Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 sought to protect local retailers against the onslaught of the more efficient chain stores, by making it illegal to discount prices. To control big business, the New Deal policymakers preferred federal and state regulation —controlling the rates and telephone services provided by AT&T, for example— and by building up countervailing power in the form of labor unions.
The antitrust environment of the 70's was dominated by the case United States v. IBM, which was filed by the U.S. Justice Department in 1969. IBM at the time dominated the computer market through alleged bundling of software and hardware as well as sabotage at the sales level and false product announcements. It was one of the largest and certainly the lengthiest antitrust case the DoJ brought against a company. In 1982, the Reagan administration dismissed the case, and the costs and wasted resources were heavily criticized. However, contemporary economists argue that the legal pressure on IBM during that period allowed for the development of an independent software and personal computer industry with major importance for the national economy.
In 1982 the Reagan administration used the Sherman Act to break up AT&T into one long-distance company and seven regional "Baby Bells", arguing that competition should replace monopoly for the benefit of consumers and the economy as a whole. The pace of business takeovers quickened in the 1990s, but whenever one large corporation sought to acquire another, it first had to obtain the approval of either the FTC, FCC or the Justice Department. Often the government demanded that certain subsidiaries be sold so that the new company would not monopolize a particular geographical market.
In 1999 a coalition of 19 states and the federal Justice Department sued Microsoft. A highly publicized trial found that Microsoft had strong-armed many companies in an attempt to prevent competition from the Netscape browser. In 2000, the trial court ordered Microsoft to split in two, preventing it from future misbehavior. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. In addition, it removed the judge from the case for discussing the case with the media while it was still pending. With the case in front of a new judge, Microsoft and the government settled, with the government dropping the case in return for Microsoft agreeing to cease many of the practices the government challenged.
Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
Preventing collusion and cartels that act in restraint of trade is an essential task of antitrust law. It reflects the view that each business has a duty to act independently on the market, and so earn its profits solely by providing better priced and quality products than its competitors.
restraint of trade
The Sherman Act §1 prohibits "[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce." This targets two or more distinct enterprises acting together in a way that harms third parties. It does not capture the decisions of a single enterprise, or a single economic entity, even though the form of an entity may be two or more separate legal persons or companies. In Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp. it was held an agreement between a parent company and a wholly owned subsidiary could not be subject to antitrust law, because the decision took place within a single economic entity. This reflects the view that if the enterprise (as an economic entity) has not acquired a monopoly position, or has significant market power, then no harm is done. The same rationale has been extended to joint ventures, where corporate shareholders make a decision through a new company they form. In Texaco Inc. v. Dagher the Supreme Court held unanimously that a price set by a joint venture between Texaco and Shell Oil did not count as making an unlawful agreement. Thus the law draws a "basic distinction between concerted and independent action". Multi-firm conduct tends to be seen as more likely than single-firm conduct to have an unambiguously negative effect and "is judged more sternly". Generally the law identifies four main categories of agreement. First, some agreements such as price fixing or sharing markets are automatically unlawful, or illegal per se. Second, because the law does not seek to prohibit every kind of agreement that hinders freedom of contract, it developed a "rule of reason" where a practice might restrict trade in a way that is seen as positive or beneficial for consumers or society. Third, significant problems of proof and identification of wrongdoing arise where businesses make no overt contact, or simply share information, but appear to act in concert. Tacit collusion, particularly in concentrated markets with a small number of competitors or oligopolists, have led to significant controversy over whether or not antitrust authorities should intervene. Fourth, vertical agreements between a business and a supplier or purchaser "up" or "downstream" raise concerns about the exercise of market power, however they are generally subject to a more relaxed standard under the "rule of reason".
Some practices are deemed by the courts to be so obviously detrimental that they are categorized as being automatically unlawful, or illegal per se. The simplest and central case of this is price fixing. This involves an agreement by businesses to set the price or consideration of a good or service which they buy or sell from others at a specific level. If the agreement is durable, the general term for these businesses is a cartel. It is irrelevant whether or not the businesses succeed in increasing their profits, or whether together they reach the level of having market power as might a monopoly. Such collusion is illegal per se.
Bid rigging is a form of price fixing and market allocation that involves an agreement in which one party of a group of bidders will be designated to win the bid. Geographic market allocation is an agreement between competitors not to compete within each other's geographic territories.
Addyston Pipe and Steel Co. v. United States pipe manufacturers had agreed among themselves to designate one lowest bidder for government contracts. This was held to be an unlawful restraint of trade contrary to the Sherman Act. However, following the reasoning of Justice Taft in the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that implicit in the Sherman Act §1 there was a rule of reason, so that not every agreement which restrained the freedom of contract of the parties would count as an anti-competitive violation.
Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. California, 113 S.Ct. 2891 (1993) 5 to 4, a group of reinsurance companies acting in London were successfully sued by California for conspiring to make U.S. insurance companies abandon policies beneficial to consumers, but costly to reinsure. The Sherman Act was held to have extraterritorial application, to agreements outside U.S. territory.
Group boycotts of competitors, customers or distributors
Fashion Originators' Guild of America v. FTC, 312 U.S. 457 (1941) the FOGA, a combination of clothes designers, agreed not to sell their clothes to shops which stocked replicas of their designs, and employed their own inspectors. Held to violate the Sherman Act §1
Associated Press v. United States, 326 U.S. 1 (1945) 6 to 3, a prohibition on members selling "spontaneous news" violated the Sherman Act, as well as making membership difficult, and freedom of speech among newspapers was no defense, nor was the absence of a total monopoly
Northwest Wholesale Stationers v. Pacific Stationery, 472 U.S. 284 (1985) it was not per se unlawful for the Northwest Wholesale Stationers, a purchasing co-operative where Pacific Stationery had been a member, to expel Pacific Stationery without any procedure or hearing or reason. Whether there were competitive effects would have to be adjudged under the rule of reason.
NYNEX Corp. v. Discon, Inc., 525 U.S. 128 (1998) the per se group boycott prohibition does not apply to a buyer's decision to purchase goods from one seller or another
If an antitrust claim does not fall within a per se illegal category, the plaintiff must show the conduct causes harm in "restraint of trade" under the Sherman Act §1 according to "the facts peculiar to the business to which the restraint is applied". This essentially means that unless a plaintiff can point to a clear precedent, to which the situation is analogous, proof of an anti-competitive effect is more difficult. The reason for this is that the courts have endeavoured to draw a line between practices that restrain trade in a "good" compared to a "bad" way. In the first case, United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association, the Supreme Court found that railroad companies had acted unlawfully by setting up an organisation to fix transport prices. The railroads had protested that their intention was to keep prices low, not high. The court found that this was not true, but stated that not every "restraint of trade" in a literal sense could be unlawful. Just as under the common law, the restraint of trade had to be "unreasonable". In Chicago Board of Trade v. United States the Supreme Court found a "good" restraint of trade. The Chicago Board of Trade had a rule that commodities traders were not allowed to privately agree to sell or buy after the market's closing time (and then finalise the deals when it opened the next day). The reason for the Board of Trade having this rule was to ensure that all traders had an equal chance to trade at a transparent market price. It plainly restricted trading, but the Chicago Board of Trade argued this was beneficial. Brandeis J., giving judgment for a unanimous Supreme Court, held the rule to be pro-competitive, and comply with the rule of reason. It did not violate the Sherman Act §1. As he put it,
Every agreement concerning trade, every regulation of trade, restrains. To bind, to restrain, is of their very essence. The true test of legality is whether the restraint imposed is such as merely regulates and perhaps thereby promotes competition or whether it is such as may suppress or even destroy competition. To determine that question, the court must ordinarily consider the facts peculiar to the business to which the restraint is applied, its condition before and after the restraint was imposed, the nature of the restraint, and its effect, actual or probable.
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) 5 to 2, while Bell Atlantic and other major telephone companies were alleged to have acted in concert to share markets, and not compete in each other's territory to the detriment of small businesses, it was held that in absence of evidence of an agreement, parallel conduct is not enough to ground a case under the Sherman Act §1
Theatre Enterprises v. Paramount Distributing, 346 U.S. 537 (1954), no evidence of illegal agreement, however film distributors gave first film releases to downtown Baltimore theatres, and suburban theatres were forced to wait longer. Held, there needed to be evidence of conspiracy to injure
American Tobacco Co. v. United States, 328 U.S. 781 (1946) after American Tobacco Co was broken up, the four entities were found to have achieved a collectively dominant position, which still amounted to monopolization of the market contrary to the Sherman Act §2
Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park and Sons, 220 U.S. 373 (1911) affirmed a lower court's holding that a massive minimum resale price maintenance scheme was unreasonable and thus offended Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Kiefer-Stewart Co. v. Seagram & Sons, Inc., 340 U.S. 211 (1951) it was unlawful for private liquor dealers to require that their products only be resold up to a maximum price. It unduly restrained the freedom of businesses and was per se illegal.
Albrecht v. Herald Co., 390 U.S. 145 (1968) setting a fixed price, minimum or maximum, held to violate section 1 of the Sherman Act
State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3 (1997) vertical maximum price fixing had to be adjudged according to a rule of reason
Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. 551 U.S. 877 (2007) 5 to 4 decision that vertical price restraints were not per se illegal. A leather manufacturer therefore did not violate the Sherman Act by stopping delivery of goods to a retailer after the retailer refused to raise its prices to the leather manufacturer's standards.
Continental Television v. GTE Sylvania, 433 U.S. 36 (1977) 6 to 2, held that it was not an antitrust violation, and it fell within the rule of reason, for a seller to limit the number of franchises and require the franchisees only sell goods within its area
United States v. Colgate & Co., 250U.S.300 (1919) there is no unlawful action by a manufacturer or seller, who publicly announces a price policy, and then refuses to deal with businesses who do not subsequently comply with the policy. This is in contrast to agreements to maintain a certain price.
Monsanto Co. v. Spray-Rite Service Corp., 465U.S.752 (1984), stating that, "under Colgate, the manufacturer can announce its re-sale prices in advance and refuse to deal with those who fail to comply, and a distributor is free to acquiesce to the manufacturer's demand in order to avoid termination". Monsanto, an agricultural chemical, terminated its distributorship agreement with Spray-Rite on the ground that it failed to hire trained salesmen and promote sales to dealers adequately. Held, not per se illegal, because the restriction related to non-price matters, and so was to be judged under the rule of reason.
Business Electronics Corp. v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 485U.S.717 (1988) electronic calculators; "a vertical restraint is not illegal per se unless it includes some agreement on price or price levels. ... [T]here is a presumption in favor of a rule-of-reason standard; [and] departure from that standard must be justified by demonstrable economic effect, such as the facilitation of cartelizing ... "
No person engaged in commerce or in any activity affecting commerce shall acquire, directly or indirectly, the whole or any part of the stock or other share capital and no person subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission shall acquire the whole or any part of the assets of another person engaged also in commerce or in any activity affecting commerce, where in any line of commerce or in any activity affecting commerce in any section of the country, the effect of such acquisition may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.
Although the Sherman Act 1890 initially dealt, in general, with cartels (where businesses combined their activities to the detriment of others) and monopolies (where one business was so large it could use its power to the detriment of others alone) it was recognized that this left a gap. Instead of forming a cartel, businesses could simply merge into one entity. The period between 1895 and 1904 saw a "great merger movement" as business competitors combined into ever more giant corporations. However upon a literal reading of Sherman Act, no remedy could be granted until a monopoly had already formed. The Clayton Act 1914 attempted to fill this gap by giving jurisdiction to prevent mergers in the first place if they would "substantially lessen competition".
Dual antitrust enforcement by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission has long elicited concerns about disparate treatment of mergers. In response, in September 2014, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules Act ("SMARTER Act").
FTC v. Dean Foods Co, 384 U.S. 597 (1966) 5 to 4, the FTC was entitled to get an injunction to prevent the completion of a merger, between milk selling competitors in the Chicago area, before its competitive effects are determined by a court
Brown Shoe Co., Inc. v. United States, 370U.S.294 (1962) there is not one single test for whether a merger substantially lessens competition, but a variety of economic and other factors may be considered. Two shoe retailers and manufacturers merging was held to substantially lessen competition, given the market in towns over 10,000 people for men's, women's and children's shoes.
Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
The law's treatment of monopolies is potentially the strongest in the field of antitrust law. Judicial remedies can force large organizations to be broken up, be run subject to positive obligations, massive penalties may be imposed, and/or the people involved can be sentenced to jail. Under §2 of the Sherman Act 1890 every "person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize ... any part of the trade or commerce among the several States" commits an offence. The courts have interpreted this to mean that monopoly is not unlawful per se, but only if acquired through prohibited conduct. Historically, where the ability of judicial remedies to combat market power have ended, the legislature of states or the Federal government have still intervened by taking public ownership of an enterprise, or subjecting the industry to sector specific regulation (frequently done, for example, in the cases water, education, energy or health care). The law on public services and administration goes significantly beyond the realm of antitrust law's treatment of monopolies. When enterprises are not under public ownership, and where regulation does not foreclose the application of antitrust law, two requirements must be shown for the offense of monopolization. First, the alleged monopolist must possess sufficient power in an accurately defined market for its products or services. Second, the monopolist must have used its power in a prohibited way. The categories of prohibited conduct are not closed, and are contested in theory. Historically they have been held to include exclusive dealing, price discrimination, refusing to supply an essential facility, product tying and predatory pricing.
United States v. Alcoa, 148 F.2d 416 (2d Cir. 1945) a monopoly can be deemed to exist depending on the size of the market. It was generally irrelevant how the monopoly was achieved since the fact of being dominant on the market was negative for competition. (Criticised by Alan Greenspan.)
United States v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 351 U.S. 377 (1956), illustrates the cellophane paradox of defining the relevant market. If a monopolist has set a price very high, there may now be many substitutable goods at similar prices, which could lead to a conclusion that the market share is small, and there is no monopoly. However, if a competitive price were charged, there would be a lower price, and so very few substitutes, whereupon the market share would be very high, and a monopoly established.
Spectrum Sports, Inc. v. McQuillan, 506 U.S. 447 (1993) in order for monopolies to be found to have acted unlawfully, action must have actually been taken. The threat of abusive behavior is insufficient.
Fraser v. Major League Soccer, 284 F.3d 47 (1st Cir. 2002) there could be no unlawful monopolization of the soccer market by MLS where no market previously existed
United States v. Griffith 334 U.S. 100 (1948) four cinema corporations secured exclusive rights from distributors, foreclosing competitors. Specific intent to monopolize is not required, violating the Sherman Act §§1 and 2.
United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563 (1966) Grinnell made plumbing supplies and fire sprinklers, and with affiliates had 87% of the central station protective service market. From this predominant share there was no doubt of monopoly power.
Standard Oil Co. v. United States (Standard Stations), 337 U.S. 293 (1949): oil supply contracts affected a gross business of $58 million, comprising 6.7% of the total in a seven-state area, in the context of many similar arrangements, held to be contrary to Clayton Act §3.
Tampa Electric Co. v. Nashville Coal Co., 365 U.S. 320 (1961): Tampa Electric Co contracted to buy coal for 20 years to provide power in Florida, and Nashville Coal Co later attempted to end the contract on the basis that it was an exclusive supply agreement contrary to the Clayton Act § 3 or the Sherman Act §§ 1 or 2. Held, no violation because foreclosed share of market was insignificant this did not affect competition sufficiently.
Eastman Kodak Company v. Image Technical Services, Inc., 504 U.S. 451 (1992) Kodak has refused to supply replacement parts to small businesses servicing Kodak equipment, which was alleged to violate the Sherman Act §§1 and 2. The Supreme Court held 6 to 3 that the small businesses were entitled to bring the case, and Kodak was not entitled to summary judgment.
It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce, in the course of such commerce, to lease or make a sale or contract for sale of goods, wares, merchandise, machinery, supplies, or other commodities, whether patented or unpatented, for use, consumption, or resale within the United States or any Territory thereof or the District of Columbia or any insular possession or other place under the jurisdiction of the United States, or fix a price charged therefor, or discount from, or rebate upon, such price, on the condition, agreement, or understanding that the lessee or purchaser thereof shall not use or deal in the goods, wares, merchandise, machinery, supplies, or other commodities of a competitor or competitors of the lessor or seller, where the effect of such lease, sale, or contract for sale or such condition, agreement, or understanding may be to substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in any line of commerce.
International Salt Co. v. United States, 332U.S.392 (1947) it would be a per se infringement of the Sherman Act §2 for a seller, who has a legal monopoly through a patent, to tie buyers to purchase products over which the seller does not have a patent
In theory, which is hotly contested, predatory pricing happens when large companies with huge cash reserves and large lines of credit stifle competition by selling their products and services at a loss for a time, to force their smaller competitors out of business. With no competition, they are then free to consolidate control of the industry and charge whatever prices they wish. At this point, there is also little motivation for investing in further technological research, since there are no competitors left to gain an advantage over. High barriers to entry such as large upfront investment, notably named sunk costs, requirements in infrastructure and exclusive agreements with distributors, customers, and wholesalers ensure that it will be difficult for any new competitors to enter the market, and that if any do, the trust will have ample advance warning and time in which to either buy the competitor out, or engage in its own research and return to predatory pricing long enough to force the competitor out of business. Critics argue that the empirical evidence shows that "predatory pricing" does not work in practice and is better defeated by a truly free market than by antitrust laws (see Criticism of the theory of predatory pricing).
Brooke Group Ltd. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 509 U.S. 209 (1993) to prove predatory pricing the plaintiff must show that changes in market conditions are adverse to its interests, and that (1) prices are below an appropriate measure of its rival's costs, and (2) the competitor had a reasonable prospect or a "dangerous probability" of recouping its investment in the alleged scheme.
Continental Paper Bag Co. v. Eastern Paper Bag Co., 210 U.S. 405 (1908) 8 to 1, concerning a self opening paper bag, it was not an unlawful use of a monopoly position to refuse to license a patent's use to others, since the essence of a patent was the freedom not to do so.
International Salt Co. v. United States, 332 U.S. 392 (1947) it would be a per se infringement of the Sherman Act §2 for a seller, who has a legal monopoly through a patent, to tie buyers to purchase products over which the seller does not have a patent
First, since the Clayton Act 1914 §6, there is no application of antitrust laws to agreements between employees to form or act in labor unions. This was seen as the "Bill of Rights" for labor, as the Act laid down that the "labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce". The purpose was to ensure that employees with unequal bargaining power were not prevented from combining in the same way that their employers could combine in corporations, subject to the restrictions on mergers that the Clayton Act set out. However, sufficiently autonomous workers, such as professional sports players have been held to fall within antitrust provisions.
Second, professional sports leagues enjoy a number of exemptions. Mergers and joint agreements of professional football, hockey, baseball, and basketball leagues are exempt.Major League Baseball was held to be broadly exempt from antitrust law in Federal Baseball Club v. National League. Holmes J held that the baseball league's organization meant that there was no commerce between the states taking place, even though teams traveled across state lines to put on the games. That travel was merely incidental to a business which took place in each state. It was subsequently held in 1952 in Toolson v. New York Yankees, and then again in 1972 Flood v. Kuhn, that the baseball league's exemption was an "aberration". However Congress had accepted it, and favored it, so retroactively overruling the exemption was no longer a matter for the courts, but the legislature. In United States v. International Boxing Club of New York, it was held that, unlike baseball, boxing was not exempt, and in Radovich v. National Football League (NFL), professional football is generally subject to antitrust laws. As a result of the AFL-NFL merger, the National Football League was also given exemptions in exchange for certain conditions, such as not directly competing with college or high school football. However, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in American Needle Inc. v. NFL characterised the NFL as a "cartel" of 32 independent businesses subject to antitrust law, not a single entity.
Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341 (1943) actions by state governments were held to be exempt from antitrust law, given that there was no original legislative intent to cover anything other than business combinations.
Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975) the Virginia State Bar, which was delegated power to set price schedules for lawyers fees, was an unlawful price fixing. It was no longer exempt from the Sherman Act, and constituted a per se infringement.
United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association, 166 U.S. 290 (1897) the antitrust laws applied to the railroad industry, even though there was a comprehensive scheme of legislation applying to the railroads already. No specific exemption had been given.
The several district courts of the United States are invested with jurisdiction to prevent and restrain violations of sections 1 to 7 of this title; and it shall be the duty of the several United States attorneys, in their respective districts, under the direction of the Attorney General, to institute proceedings in equity to prevent and restrain such violations. Such proceedings may be by way of petition setting forth the case and praying that such violation shall be enjoined or otherwise prohibited. When the parties complained of shall have been duly notified of such petition the court shall proceed, as soon as may be, to the hearing and determination of the case; and pending such petition and before final decree, the court may at any time make such temporary restraining order or prohibition as shall be deemed just in the premises.
The remedies for violations of U.S. antitrust laws are as broad as any equitable remedy that a court has the power to make, as well as being able to impose penalties. When private parties have suffered an actionable loss, they may claim compensation. Under the Sherman Act 1890 §7, these may be trebled, a measure to encourage private litigation to enforce the laws and act as a deterrent. The courts may award penalties under §§1 and 2, which are measured according to the size of the company or the business. In their inherent jurisdiction to prevent violations in future, the courts have additionally exercised the power to break up businesses into competing parts under different owners, although this remedy has rarely been exercised (examples include Standard Oil, Northern Securities Company, American Tobacco Company, AT&T Corporation and, although reversed on appeal, Microsoft). Three levels of enforcement come from the Federal government, primarily through the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the governments of states, and private parties. Public enforcement of antitrust laws is seen as important, given the cost, complexity and daunting task for private parties to bring litigation, particularly against large corporations.
FTC v. Sperry & Hutchinson Trading Stamp Co., 405 U.S. 233 (1972). Case held that the FTC is entitled to bring enforcement action against businesses that act unfairly, as where supermarket trading stamps company injured consumers by prohibiting them from exchanging trading stamps. The FTC could prevent the restrictive practice as unfair, even though there was no specific antitrust violation.
Despite considerable effort by the Clinton administration, the Federal government attempted to extend antitrust cooperation with other countries for mutual detection, prosecution and enforcement. A bill was unanimously passed by the US Congress; however by 2000 only one treaty has been signed with Australia. On 3 July 2017 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced it was seeking explanations from a US company, Apple Inc. In relation to potentially anticompetitive behaviour against an Australian bank in possible relation to Apple Pay. It is not known whether the treaty could influence the enquiry or outcome.
In many cases large US companies tend to deal with overseas antitrust within the overseas jurisdiction, autonomous of US laws, such as in Microsoft Corp v Commission and more recently, Google v European Union where the companies were heavily fined. Questions have been raised with regards to the consistency of antitrust between jurisdictions where the same antitrust corporate behaviour, and similar antitrust legal environment, is prosecuted in one jurisdiction but not another.
Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 405 U.S. 251 (1972) state governments do not have a cause of action to sue for consequential loss for damage to their general economies after an antitrust violation is found.
Private civil suits may be brought, in both state and federal court, against violators of state and federal antitrust law. Federal antitrust laws, as well as most state laws, provide for triple damages against antitrust violators in order to encourage private lawsuit enforcement of antitrust law. Thus, if a company is sued for monopolizing a market and the jury concludes the conduct resulted in consumers' being overcharged $200,000, that amount will automatically be tripled, so the injured consumers will receive $600,000. The United States Supreme Court summarized why Congress authorized private antitrust lawsuits in the case Hawaii v. Standard Oil Co. of Cal., 405 U.S. 251, 262 (1972):
Every violation of the antitrust laws is a blow to the free-enterprise system envisaged by Congress. This system depends on strong competition for its health and vigor, and strong competition depends, in turn, on compliance with antitrust legislation. In enacting these laws, Congress had many means at its disposal to penalize violators. It could have, for example, required violators to compensate federal, state, and local governments for the estimated damage to their respective economies caused by the violations. But, this remedy was not selected. Instead, Congress chose to permit all persons to sue to recover three times their actual damages every time they were injured in their business or property by an antitrust violation. By offering potential litigants the prospect of a recovery in three times the amount of their damages, Congress encouraged these persons to serve as "private attorneys general".
Bigelow v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 327 U.S. 251 (1946) treble damages awarded under the Clayton Act §4 needed not to be mathematically precise, but based on a reasonable estimate of loss, and not speculative. This meant a jury could set a higher estimate of how much movie theaters lost, when the film distributors conspired with other theaters to let them show films first.
Illinois Brick Co. v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 720 (1977) indirect purchasers of goods where prices have been raised have no standing to sue. Only the direct contractors of cartel members may, to avoid double or multiple recovery.
The Supreme Court calls the Sherman Antitrust Act a "charter of freedom", designed to protect free enterprise in America. One view of the statutory purpose, urged for example by Justice Douglas, was that the goal was not only to protect consumers, but at least as importantly to prohibit the use of power to control the marketplace.
We have here the problem of bigness. Its lesson should by now have been burned into our memory by Brandeis. The Curse of Bigness shows how size can become a menace--both industrial and social. It can be an industrial menace because it creates gross inequalities against existing or putative competitors. It can be a social menace ... In final analysis, size in steel is the measure of the power of a handful of men over our economy ... The philosophy of the Sherman Act is that it should not exist ... Industrial power should be decentralized. It should be scattered into many hands so that the fortunes of the people will not be dependent on the whim or caprice, the political prejudices, the emotional stability of a few self-appointed men ... That is the philosophy and the command of the Sherman Act. It is founded on a theory of hostility to the concentration in private hands of power so great that only a government of the people should have it.
— Dissenting opinion of Justice Douglas in United States v. Columbia Steel Co.
By contrast, efficiency argue that antitrust legislation should be changed to primarily benefit consumers, and have no other purpose. Free market economist Milton Friedman states that he initially agreed with the underlying principles of antitrust laws (breaking up monopolies and oligopolies and promoting more competition), but that he came to the conclusion that they do more harm than good.Thomas Sowell argues that, even if a superior business drives out a competitor, it does not follow that competition has ended:
In short, the financial demise of a competitor is not the same as getting rid of competition. The courts have long paid lip service to the distinction that economists make between competition—a set of economic conditions—and existing competitors, though it is hard to see how much difference that has made in judicial decisions. Too often, it seems, if you have hurt competitors, then you have hurt competition, as far as the judges are concerned.
Alan Greenspan argues that the very existence of antitrust laws discourages businessmen from some activities that might be socially useful out of fear that their business actions will be determined illegal and dismantled by government. In his essay entitled Antitrust, he says: "No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born. No one can ever compute the price that all of us have paid for that Act which, by inducing less effective use of capital, has kept our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible." Those, like Greenspan, who oppose antitrust tend not to support competition as an end in itself but for its results—low prices. As long as a monopoly is not a coercive monopoly where a firm is securely insulated from potential competition, it is argued that the firm must keep prices low in order to discourage competition from arising. Hence, legal action is uncalled for and wrongly harms the firm and consumers.
Thomas DiLorenzo, an adherent of the Austrian School of economics, found that the "trusts" of the late 19th century were dropping their prices faster than the rest of the economy, and he holds that they were not monopolists at all.Ayn Rand, the American writer, provides a moral argument against antitrust laws. She holds that these laws in principle criminalize any person engaged in making a business successful, and, thus, are gross violations of their individual expectations. Such laissez faire advocates suggest that only a coercive monopoly should be broken up, that is the persistent, exclusive control of a vitally needed resource, good, or service such that the community is at the mercy of the controller, and where there are no suppliers of the same or substitute goods to which the consumer can turn. In such a monopoly, the monopolist is able to make pricing and production decisions without an eye on competitive market forces and is able to curtail production to price-gouge consumers. Laissez-faire advocates argue that such a monopoly can only come about through the use of physical coercion or fraudulent means by the corporation or by government intervention and that there is no case of a coercive monopoly ever existing that was not the result of government policies.
Judge Robert Bork's writings on antitrust law (particularly The Antitrust Paradox), along with those of Richard Posner and other law and economics thinkers, were heavily influential in causing a shift in the U.S. Supreme Court's approach to antitrust laws since the 1970s, to be focused solely on what is best for the consumer rather than the company's practices.
^For a general framework, see Thibault Schrepel, A New Structured Rule of Reason Approach for High-Tech Markets, Suffolk University Law Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, 2017 at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2908838
^For example, the Standard Oil Trust was formed in 1882 to combine the Standard Oil Company and a number of other companies that were engaged in producing, refining, and marketing oil. Under the Standard Oil Trust Agreement, the companies transferred their stock "in trust" to nine trustees headed by John D. Rockefeller and in exchange received a beneficial interest in the trust. Eventually, the trustees governed some 40 corporations, of which the trust wholly owned 14. In 1899, however, the trust renamed its New Jersey firm Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) and incorporated it as a holding company. All assets and interests formerly grouped in the trust were then transferred to the New Jersey company. Because of Standard Oil's monopolistic conduct, in 1911 the Supreme Court, in Standard Oil Co. v. United States, ordered the break-up of the business organization. The New Jersey company was ordered to divest itself of its major holdings—33 companies in all. See Standard Oil Company and Trust, in Encyclopædia Britannica. See also Standard Oil#Early years.
^"[The trusts are] a kingly prerogative, inconsistent with our form of government, and should be subject to the strong resistance of the State and national authorities." Trusts: Speech of Hon. John Sherman, of Ohio, Delivered in the Senate of the United States, Friday, March 21, 1890
^Since the passage of the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914, the FTC has had power to enforce section 1 of the Sherman Act administratively, under the rubric of section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. sec. 45. See generally FTC v. Sperry & Hutchinson Trading Stamp Co. As that Supreme Court decision explains, the FTC also has authority to act against incipient Sherman Act violations and violations of its "spirit."
^cf AA Berle, 'The Theory of Enterprise Entity' (1947) 47(3) Columbia Law Review 343, where the corollary is argued, that an enterprise ought to be responsible for the debts of each separate legal person within the economic group.
^See Areeda (2004) 80-92. On consumer boycotts, see Missouri v. National Organizationfor Women, Inc. 620 F.2d 1301 (8th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 101 S. Ct. 122 (1980) and MA Harris, 'Political, Social and Economic Boycotts by Consumers: Do They Violate the Sherman Act?' (1979-1980) 17 Houston Law Review 775, discussing the justifications for wholly exempting consumer action.