DOJ, FTC to expedite coronavirus-related joint venture reviews

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Makan Delrahim, U.S. assistant attorney general for the antitrust division (l) and Joe Simon, Chairman of the FTC.

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U.S. federal antitrust authorities announced they will expedite joint venture reviews for cases involving efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

While such reviews can typically take months, the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice said in a joint statement Tuesday they will aim to resolve reviews of ventures “addressing public health and safety” within 7 days of getting necessary information. The agencies are acting under a statute meant to promote research and innovation.

The agencies gave the examples of healthcare facilities working together to provide resources to under equipped communities and businesses combining networks to create and distribute coronavirus-related supplies.

The statement also highlighted the ways companies can collaborate during the crisis without fearing a violation of antitrust laws. For example, the agencies would generally consider firms to be acting pro-competitively when collaborating on research and development projects, sharing technical know-how (as opposed to company data about prices or other financial info)  and — in the case of healthcare providers — entering joint purchasing agreements that lower transaction costs.

The laws would also typically allow for private lobbying for the use of federal emergency authority, the agencies said, as long as they are used to solicit government action around passing and enforcing laws.

But it’s not open season. The agencies said they would continue to crack down on firms that attempt to exploit the crisis by price-gouging, cutting wages, reducing output or quality, as well as through criminal violations. Tech platforms like Amazon have already worked to cut off businesses seeking to profit from the crisis, removing hundreds of thousands of “high-priced offers” and suspending price gougers. The antitrust enforcers said they also are prepared to pursue action against monopolists who “use their market power to engage in exclusionary conduct.”

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