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Four basic antitrust laws regulate the competitive activities of US business: the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and the Robinson-Patman Act. The Sherman Act prohibits restraints of trade and monopolizing. The Clayton Act prohibits a variety of anticompetitive acts, including mergers and acquisitions that might tend to lessen competition. The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair and deceptive acts or practices in commerce. The Robinson-Patman Act prohibits a variety of price discriminations. (This act is actually an amendment to the Clayton Act.) These laws are enforced in four ways: (1) by the US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division; (2) by the Federal Trade Commission; (3) by state attorneys general; and (4) by private litigants.
The courts have interpreted Section 1 of the Sherman Act, prohibiting every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade, by using a rule of reason. Thus reasonable restraints that are ancillary to legitimate business practices are lawful. But some acts are per se unreasonable, such as price-fixing, and will violate Section 1. Section 1 restraints of trade include both horizontal and vertical restraints of trade. Vertical restraints of trade include resale price maintenance, refusals to deal, and unreasonable territorial restrictions on distributors. Horizontal restraints of trade include price-fixing, exchanging price information when doing so permits industry members to control prices, controlling output, regulating competitive methods, allocating territories, exclusionary agreements, and boycotts.
Exclusive dealing contracts and tying contracts whose effects may be to substantially lessen competition violate Section 3 of the Clayton Act and may also violate both Section 1 of the Sherman Act and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Requirements and supply contracts are unlawful if they tie up so much of a commodity that they tend substantially to lessen competition or might tend to do so.
The Robinson-Patman Act (Section 2 of the Clayton Act) prohibits price discrimination for different purchasers of commodities of like grade and quality if the effect may be substantially to (1) lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in any line of commerce or (2) impair competition with (a) any person who grants or (b) knowingly receives the benefit of the discrimination, or (c) with customers of either of them.
Some industries and groups are insulated from the direct reach of the antitrust laws. These include industries separately regulated under federal law, organized labor, insurance companies, activities mandated under state law, group solicitation government action, and baseball.
Section 2 of the Sherman Act prohibits monopolizing or attempting to monopolize any part of interstate or foreign trade or commerce. The law does not forbid monopoly as such but only acts or attempts or conspiracies to monopolize. The prohibition includes the monopolist who has acquired his monopoly through illegitimate means.
Three factors are essential in a Section 2 case: (1) relevant market for determining dominance, (2) the degree of monopoly power, and (3) the particular acts claimed to be illegitimate.
Relevant market has two dimensions: product market and geographic market. Since many goods have close substitutes, the courts look to the degree to which consumers will shift to other goods or suppliers if the price of the commodity or service in question is priced in a monopolistic way. This test is known as cross-elasticity of demand. If the cross-elasticity is high—meaning that consumers will readily shift—then the other goods or services must be included in the product market definition, thus reducing the share of the market that the defendant will be found to have. The geographic market is not the country as a whole, because Section 2 speaks in terms of “any part” of trade or commerce. Usually the government or private plaintiff will try to show that the geographic market is small, since that will tend to give the alleged monopolist a larger share of it.
Market power in general means the share of the relevant market that the alleged monopolist enjoys. The law does not lay down fixed percentages, though various decisions seem to suggest that two-thirds of the market might be too low but three-quarters high enough to constitute monopoly power.
Acts that were aimed at or had the probable effect of excluding competitors from the market are acts of monopolizing. Examples are predatory pricing and boycotts. Despite repeated claims during the 1970s and 1980s by smaller competitors, large companies have prevailed in court against the argument that innovation suddenly sprung on the market without notice is per se evidence of intent to monopolize.
Remedies for Sherman Act Section 2 violations include damages, injunction, and divestiture. These remedies are also available in Clayton Act Section 7 cases.
Section 7 prohibits mergers or acquisitions that might tend to lessen competition in any line of commerce in any section of the country. Mergers and acquisitions are usually classified in one of three ways: horizontal (between competitors), vertical (between different levels of the distribution chain), or conglomerate (between businesses that are not directly related). The latter may be divided into product-extension and market-expansion mergers. The relevant market test is different than in monopolization cases; in a Section 7 action, relevance of market may be proved.
In assessing horizontal mergers, the courts will look to the market shares of emerging companies, industry concentration ratios, and trends toward concentration in the industry. To prove a Section 7 case, the plaintiff must show that the merger forecloses competition “in a substantial share of” a substantial market. Conglomerate merger cases are harder to prove and require a showing of specific potential effects, such as raising barriers to entry into an industry and thus entrenching monopoly, or eliminating potential competition. Joint ventures may also be condemned by Section 7. The Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 requires certain companies to get premerger notice to the Justice Department.
In 1959, The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) acquired the stock and assets of the Rome Cable Corporation. Alcoa and Rome both manufactured bare and insulated aluminum wire and cable, used for overhead electric power transmission lines. Rome, but not Alcoa, manufactured copper conductor, used for underground transmissions. Insulated aluminum wire and cable is quite inferior to copper, but it can be used effectively for overhead transmission, and Alcoa increased its share of annual installations from 6.5 percent in 1950 to 77.2 percent in 1959. During that time, copper lost out to aluminum for overhead transmission. Aluminum and copper conductor prices do not respond to one another; lower copper conductor prices do not put great pressure on aluminum wire and cable prices. As the Supreme Court summarized the facts in United States v. Aluminum Co. of America,United States v. Aluminum Co. of America, 377 U.S. 271 (1964).
In 1958—the year prior to the merger—Alcoa was the leading producer of aluminum conductor, with 27.8% of the market; in bare aluminum conductor, it also led the industry with 32.5%. Alcoa plus Kaiser controlled 50% of the aluminum conductor market and, with its three leading competitors, more than 76%. Only nine concerns (including Rome with 1.3%) accounted for 95.7% of the output of aluminum conductor, Alcoa was third with 11.6%, and Rome was eighth with 4.7%. Five companies controlled 65.4% and four smaller ones, including Rome, added another 22.8%.
The Justice Department sued Alcoa-Rome for violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act. What is the government’s argument? What is the result?
A company with 95 percent of the market for its product is
Which of the following may be evidence of an intent to monopolize?
A merger that lessens competition in any line of commerce is prohibited by
Which of the following statements is true?
A line of commerce is a concept spelled out in