During June 2017, the European Commission launched yet more competition law investigations into licensing and distribution practices in the EU. The four new investigations complement its e-commerce sector inquiry and other pending investigations into suspected anti-competitive practices in e-commerce.
On 14 June 2017, the Commission announced three separate investigations into Nike, Sanrio and Universal Studios. Among other brands, sports apparel manufacturer Nike is the licensor of rights for Fútbol Club Barcelona's merchandise, Sanrio is the licensor of rights for Hello Kitty and Universal Studios is the licensor of rights for "Minions" and "Despicable Me."
The Commission will investigate whether the three companies, in their role as licensors of rights for merchandising products, may have breached EU competition rules by restricting their licensees' ability to sell licensed merchandise cross-border and online.
On 6 June 2017, the Commission announced a similar investigation into clothing manufacturer and retailer Guess. Guess designs, distributes and licenses clothing and accessories.
The Commission will investigate information indicating that Guess' distribution agreements may restrict authorised retailers from selling online to consumers or to retailers in other EU member states. They may also restrict wholesalers from selling to retailers in other member states.
These new cases show the Commission’s continuing focus on online and offline distribution and related practices which may be illegal under EU competition law. Any company trading in the EU needs to be aware of the rules and have an appropriate compliance programme in place.