As the United States reacts and adjusts to the developing COVID-19 situation, the two federal antitrust agencies – the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division – have revised certain rules and procedures relating to their civil merger investigation processes to address these new challenges. Although both agencies have shifted most of their personnel to remote working arrangements, agency staff have demonstrated a willingness to be reasonable and accommodating.
While antitrust and consumer protection laws provide flexibility for firms to respond to changing market conditions, such as those created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that certain conduct will remain prohibited by antitrust and consumer protection laws no matter the circumstances.
Until recently, the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) ability to seek monetary equitable remedies (particularly disgorgement and restitution) for alleged antitrust violations went virtually unchallenged. However, the most recent appellate case that interprets the FTC's monetary equitable remedies under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act leaves open many questions about the FTC's ability to seek monetary equitable remedies in antitrust cases pursuant to Section 13(b).
The Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission have announced the release of the 2020 Draft Vertical Merger Guidelines (VMG) for a 30-day comment period. As with any guidelines issued by the agencies, the finalised VMG will be instructive for the agencies' review of vertical mergers and will be persuasive but not binding on the courts should a contested merger enter litigation.
California's governor recently signed a bill designed to enhance antitrust scrutiny of patent settlements between branded and generic pharmaceutical companies. The bill follows the California attorney general's nearly $70 million settlement in Summer 2019 with several pharmaceutical companies based on patent settlements that the attorney general claimed violated the Cartwright Act and is yet another example of diverging interpretations between federal and state antitrust laws.