Tag: competition commission

Competition authorities in the USA and Europe tend to have a different approach to firms that have a dominant market position by virtue of their ownership of specific intellectual property, such as software codes. Thus companies such as Microsoft can exploit network economies, thereby making it hard for rival firms to compete. After all, if most people use Windows, there is an incentive to keep using it so as to be compatible with other users. Similar arguments apply to the ownership of physical property, such as ports, airports, railways and power lines, where the owners may choose to deny access to competitors.

So should companies such as Microsoft grant rivals access to their intellectual property? Would such access increase competition, or would it be a disincentive for rivals to innovate? The following article from The Economist considers the issue and refers to a recent paper by Sir John Vickers, former head of the Office of Fair Trading and now Warden of All Souls College, Oxford and President of the Royal Economic Society. He argues for a mid-way course between Europe and America – more interventionist than in the USA, but less rigidly regulated than in the EU.

What’s mine is yours The Economist (28/5/09)
Competition Policy and Property Rights, John Vickers Oxford University , Department of Economics, Discussion Paper Series (26/5/09)
See also
‘Intel inside’ could be outside the law


  1. Explain what is meant by ‘network economies’ and give some examples.
  2. What are the arguments for and against requiring companies to give rivals access to their intellectual property?
  3. If companies are required by the competition authorities to give others access to their intellectual property, should they be allowed to charge their rivals for using such property, and, if so, how would the authorities determine the appropriate amount?

The European Commission has fined four glass companies, including the UK firm Pilkington, for operating a price-fixing cartel in the market for car glass. As part of the cartel, managers in the firms, met in secret to fix prices and carve up the market between them. The largest single fine was handed down to the firm Saint-Gobain, the owner of the UK plasterboard group BPB. Saint-Gobain was fined 896 million euros. The four firms between them controlled around 90% of the market for car glass at the time the cartel operated.

Glassmakers fined record €1.4bn for price-fixing by European regulators Guardian (13/11/08)
Europe fines glassmakers record €1.4bn Times Online (12/11/08)


  1. Explain what is meant by a cartel and how it is able to increase the profits of its members.
  2. What market conditions are most likely to lead to the formation of a cartel?
  3. Compare and contrast the role of the UK Competition Commission and the European Commission in maintaining competitive markets.
  4. Evaluate two policies that can be used by governments to prevent price-fixing.

Energywatch, an industry watchdog, has argued in a recent report to MPs that Britain’s electricity and gas supply industry is a “comfortable oligopoly” that feels little need to innovate or compete. They have called for the sector to be subject to a Competition Commission investigation.

Power companies are ripping off consumers Times Online (21/5/08)
Age of cheap power is over Times Online (21/5/08)
Call to investigate energy ‘oligopolies’ Guardian (21/5/08)


1. Explain the main characteristics of an oligopolistic industry.
2. What aspects of the electricity and gas supply market would the Competition Commission consider if asked to investigate the industry?
3. Assess the extent to which the electricity supply industry exhibits oligopolist collusion.