Friday, December 08, 2006

Antitrust Ambiguity to Be on Justices’ Docket

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 — The Supreme Court added two important antitrust cases on Thursday to its calendar for the current term. Both cases, granted at the request of defendants in private antitrust suits, are likely to lead to clarification of areas of antitrust law that have increasingly become unsettled.
One case has been closely watched on Wall Street. It is a class-action lawsuit against more than a dozen leading investment banks and institutional investors that took part in syndicates to underwrite the initial public offerings of hundreds of technology companies in the 1990s.
The suit, brought by purchasers of the stocks, charges that the sharing of information among the underwriters and the way in which they allocated shares to their customers amounted to an antitrust conspiracy.
While the eventual outcome of the case is uncertain, there is little uncertainty about the second antitrust case the court accepted. The question in that case, Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS, No. 06-480, is how antitrust law should treat the minimum prices that manufacturers require retailers to charge for their products.
In a 1911 case known as the Dr. Miles precedent, this practice of “resale price maintenance” was deemed always illegal under the Sherman Act. The case asks the justices to re-evaluate the precedent in light of modern economic theory, and instead to make these arrangements subject to case-by-case analysis under what is known as the rule of reason.
In other areas of antitrust law, the court has steadily backed away from a categorical view of antitrust liability and is highly likely to use this case as a vehicle for doing the same for resale price maintenance.

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