Online and offline distribution issues remain a key focus of competition law regulators in the EU. This has been demonstrated yet again in recent weeks, with cases from several countries identifying a range of illegal activities.
In a long-running case in Germany, a court confirmed the regulator’s (Bundeskartellamt) 2015 decision that a general prohibition imposed by a running shoes manufacturer on the use of online price comparison engines by its retailers is an “object” (in effect, automatic) infringement of competition law.
A new online case arose in the UK, in which the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating whether an agreement restricted the prices at which retailers may advertise or sell medical equipment online. Both of those activities are types of resale price maintenance (RPM), which is usually illegal in the UK and the rest of the EU.
In Austria, a court fined a toolmaker for illegal resale and minimum price agreements (RPM) with its dealers, as well as for restricting cross-border sales (parallel trade) within the EU. According to the ruling, amongst other activities, the company required a retailer to confirm in writing that it would sell the tools only in Austria, and threatened to stop supplies if it did not comply.
Another case arose in Denmark, in which an optical and digital equipment manufacturer was fined for providing rebates to its retailers on condition that they sold above a minimum resale price. Retailers which sold below the price obtained no rebate and therefore made, according to the regulator, “a very low profit.” This is a textbook example of indirect RPM.
The Belgian competition authority also recently imposed a fine for RPM. The regulator found that a supplier of compressed and stabilised liquid fresh bakers’ yeast had determined its distributors’ resale prices. In practice, distributors were not allowed to deviate from the resale price, save with the permission of the supplier.