Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Antitrust News: Morning Roundup

As I've long maintained, antitrust is first and foremost a means of blaming others for your business failure. Case in point: Texas Commercial Energy is trying to blame their competitors' "market power" for its bankruptcy:
Plano-based Texas Commercial Energy has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against several electric companies, including a TXU affiliate, claiming that they violated federal and state law by illegally manipulating the Texas electric market and fraudulently inflating prices.

The lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court in the Southern District of Texas, Corpus Christi Division, where TCE filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 6. TCE is seeking damages in excess of $535 million.

"Texas Commercial Energy is a victim of market power abuses in an energy marketplace that is mandated by Senate Bill 7 to be a level playing field for all participants," said Mike Shirley, president of TCE.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are all participants in the Texas electric market and include affiliates of TXU, Reliant, American Electric Power and Mirant.
If Texas law mandates a "level playing field," what exactly is the point of competition? Indeed, why even have private firms in the energy market if the state knows how best to govern the market?

But even if you do right by your competitors, you still face antitrust suits from your customers, as this story from Europe demonstrates:
Chiron Corp. Monday said it settled antitrust complaints by European blood banks over the pricing of its hepatitis and HIV tests.

Chiron, the Emeryville-based biotechnology company, said the Commission of the European Communities had accepted a joint settlement proposal made by Chiron and its European licensee, F. Hoffmann-La Roche.

In October 2001, the German Red Cross Donation Service and Working Society of Physicians filed a complaint with the commission alleging that Roche's prices for its blood-screening kits were unreasonable and should be prohibited.

The complaint was eventually joined by groups from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Finland and Luxembourg.

Chiron said it resolved the complaints by modifying licensing agreements that allow Hoffman-La Roche to use Chiron's technology in hepatitis C and HIV-1 blood-testing kits.
Presumably the settlement decided what was a "reasonable" price. Then again, there was a time when people set a "reasonable" price through voluntary contracts, not coercive litigation.

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