Following some busy years conducting dawn raids in various industries, the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) recently published guidelines regarding such searches. Although the guidelines contain no big surprises, as they largely reflect the law and the FCA's earlier practice, there are some interesting points – particularly as some of the Austrian legal regime deviates from European law and practice.
At present, the Austrian merger control regime is based on a system of turnover thresholds. Following German legislation and anticipating possible new legislation by the European Union, the new Cartel Act introduces a consideration threshold for which, at least in Europe, there is no practical experience. Due to vague criteria in the law, it is expected that more transactions than envisioned by the legislature will be caught by the new regime or at least notified by careful parties and lawyers.
Although implementation of the EU Cartel Damages Directive in Austria was somewhat delayed, the Council of Ministers recently approved the bill to amend the Cartel Act and the Competition Act. The law will significantly amend Austrian cartel law, primarily facilitating private enforcement of cartel damages for consumers and enterprises alike. While Austrian law has included some of these elements since 2013, the implementation of the directive goes far beyond those implemented.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether a special concentration had to be assessed in accordance with the EU Merger Regulation or national cartel law. The Supreme Court ultimately submitted this question to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. While an answer to this question is necessary, the interest in quick merger proceedings must also be considered.
After the Supreme Court imposed a record €30 million fine on grocery chain SPAR Österreichische Warenhandels-AG and its subsidiaries, a draft to amend the Cartel Act 2005 was circulated. In addition to implementing EU Directive 2014/104/EC, the draft amends existing limitation periods, reiterates the joint and several liability of cartel members and further promotes Austria's leniency programme regarding the fine procedure.
Public pharmacies are heavily regulated in Austria. The opening of new (or the relocation of existing) pharmacies is subject to approval by the district authority. Approval will be granted only if there exists a viable need for the new public pharmacy. In a recent case, two courts ignored a 2016 amendment to Section 10 of the Pharmacies Act, which allowed a deviation from the strict 5,500 person limit set out therein.
After 14 months of negotiations between the Federation of Austrian Social Security Institutions and the pharmaceutical industry, and lengthy discussions within the government coalition, Parliament recently adopted a new price cap for expensive medicinal products and a new price regime for generics and biosimilars. The government, social security institutions and the legislature hope that these amendments will create further savings in relation to expenses for medicinal products.
The Vienna Higher Regional Court recently provided valuable conclusions about the interpretation of Article 3(a) of the Supplementary Protection Certificate Regulation – specifically, whether a functional identification of an active ingredient in a basic patent is sufficient to assess whether a product can be considered as "protected by a basic patent in force".
The Supreme Court recently ruled on the line between dietetic foods and medicinal products by presentation. The defendant was ultimately ordered to cease and desist from distributing its product OMNi-BiOTiC MIGRAene as a medicinal product without marketing authorisation and using the product's name. This decision is important as it keeps a close watch on the thin line between dietetic foods and medicinal products.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in a case involving a request for an ophthalmologist to cease and desist from providing recommendations for opticians to his clients. According to the court, the prohibition against advertising can be interpreted as allowing physicians to recommend a specific service provider to patients on request. Recommendations will be considered illegal only where they are based on inappropriate motives (eg, to gain a financial advantage).