March 3, 2014

EU Accepts Visa Interchange Fee Caps

By Aymeric Dumas-Eymard

Visa has just closed a chapter of its antitrust woes in the European Union.

On February 26, 2014, the European Commission announced that it had rendered legally binding the commitments offered by Visa Europe to cap its yearly weighted average Multilateral Interchange Fees (MIFs) for consumer credit card transactions at a level of 0.3% of the value of the transaction.  The cap will apply with immediate effect to cross-border credit transactions within the EEA (i.e., where the issuer and the acquirer are in different EEA countries) and with a two-year delay to domestic credit card transactions in certain EEA countries.

Visa offered these commitments to resolve proceedings opened by the European Commission in 2008 with respect to both debit and credit card cards.  In 2010, the Commission accepted Visa’s commitment to cap its debit card MIFs at 0.20% of transaction value.  However the investigation continued with respect to credit card transactions.  The Commission issued a supplementary Statement of Objections in July 2012, setting forth its continuing concerns with Visa’s practices in the credit card space and, in particular, the level of its interchange fees.

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Categories: Antitrust Litigation, Antitrust Policy, Legislative Updates

    September 7, 2010

    Second Circuit Denies Rehearing En Banc In Cipro Reverse-Payment Litigation

    The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc today of its recent decision in the reverse-payment case of Arkansas Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund v. Bayer AG (In re Ciprofloxacin Hydrochloride Antitrust Litigation) – despite the original three-judge appellate panel’s extraordinary invitation to the parties to submit briefs requesting rehearing by the entire court.

    The case involves so-called “reverse payment” or “pay-for-delay” patent infringement settlements in which a brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturer pays the allegedly infringing generic manufacturer to settle claims that the generic product infringes the brand-name manufacturer’s patent, in exchange for which the generic agrees not to market its product.  Antitrust enforcement officials and consumer groups argue that such settlements cost consumers billions of dollars per year in the form of higher drug prices. 

    The plaintiffs sued Bayer and generic manufacturers of the blockbuster antibiotic Cipro, alleging that Bayer’s payment of hundreds of millions of dollars to the generics in settlement of patent infringement litigation violated the antitrust laws.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, which a three-judge panel upheld on appeal.

    The three-judge panel, however, wrote – some might say reluctantly – that its decision was bound by a prior Second Circuit panel’s opinion upholding a similar patent settlement, In re Tamoxifen Citrate Antitrust Litig., 466 F.3d 187 (2d Cir. 2006).  Tamoxifen held that patent settlements are presumptively lawful, unless the patent holder procured the patent by fraud on the Patent and Trademark Office or brought a baseless patent infringement lawsuit (e.g., because the patent holder knew that the patent was invalid or unenforceable). 

    The Cipro panel described the anticompetitive effects of reverse payment settlements, and invited the parties to submit briefs to request rehearing of its decision and whether the Second Circuit sitting en banc should overrule Tamoxifen.  Today, the Second Circuit declined to do so, with only Judge Pooler dissenting, in an opinion.  Judge Pooler voted for rehearing because “the ‘enormous importance’ of the issues that this case raises is beyond dispute,” and “[i]t will be up to the Supreme Court or Congress to resolve” them. 

    Legislation to ban or strictly limit these kinds of settlements remains pending in Congress in the forms of S. 369 and H.R. 1706.  Supporters of the legislation continue to try to attach it to various legislative vehicles, and it may be considered again before the end of the year. 

    An article detailing the history of reverse-payment antitrust litigation is available here.

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    Categories: Antitrust and Intellectual Property Law, Legislative Updates

      August 11, 2010

      Opposition Mounts Against Measure To Limit Interstate Wine And Beer Sales

      A bill introduced in the House this spring to allow states greater authority to regulate the interstate shipment of alcohol is facing growing opposition.

      In the latest declaration against the bill, the California Assembly last week unanimously passed Senate Joint Resolution 34, urging Congress to defeat H.R. 5034, the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2010.

      The CARE Act is a short measure – no more than 450 words, titles included – which would “reaffirm and protect the primary authority of States to regulate alcoholic beverages.”  The Act gives lip service to the bar against states discriminating against out-of-state producers – but only “without justification.”  The Act would eliminate existing law which requires that regulation of out-of-state shipments be only “to the same extent and in the same manner” as in-state production.  The law would also impose a “presumption of validity” upon state law, restricting legal challenges to state laws governing the interstate shipment of alcohol.

      The bill would allow states greater leeway to impose protectionist regulations and to block alcohol e-commerce while protecting traditional distributors.  The bill is supported by wholesalers of beer, wine and spirits who seek to protect the “three-tier system” in which wholesalers serve as middlemen between breweries, wineries, and distilleries and retailers. click here for more »

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      Categories: Legislative Updates

        June 23, 2010

        House-Senate Conferees Take Aim At Debit Cards

        The House-Senate Conference Committee considering financial services reform legislation is on the verge of adopting provisions that could shake up the world of debit cards. 

        After much controversy and intense lobbying by merchants and banks, key conferees have announced an agreement that preserves most of the Durbin Amendment and, remarkably, adds a critical and potentially groundbreaking new prohibition aimed at the networks and debit issuing banks.

        While the situation remains fluid and things could change, if this agreement holds the merchants have won a huge victory.

        In discussing where things currently stand, let’s start with the key provisions regarding debit interchange.

        While the Federal Reserve still will be given the power to pass rules regarding debit interchange, those rules will not apply to federal, state and local government program prepaid debit cards.  Reloadable prepaid cards, such as the cards increasingly used by the unbanked, are also exempted.

        In another change the definition of “interchange transaction fee” has been changed to prevent the Fed from regulating the fees that banks pay to Visa and other debit networks for membership except to the extent that such fees are used to undermine the interchange regulations.

        Lastly, in a potentially significant change,  the Fed can now take fraud prevention costs into account in configuring rules  aimed at capping the amount that merchants will pay  for debit interchange but such costs can only be considered if a bank demonstrates that they are complying with standards established by the Fed to reduce fraud. 

        That brings us to the most significant change that came out of the conference.  The initial legislation included a provision that prohibited the card networks from passing rules against merchants from offering discounts to favor one card network over another.  That provision has been removed.

        Instead, the agreement includes a provision that directs the Fed to adopt rules that preclude debit network exclusivity that comes about by “contract, requirement, condition, penalty, or otherwise.”  This provision could effectively nullify the partnership agreements between numerous banks – particularly some of the largest banks in the country – and Visa, as those agreements have resulted in an increasing number of debit cards bearing on the Visa and Interlink. click here for more »

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        Categories: Antitrust Legislation, Legislative Updates

          June 21, 2010

          Banks Enlist Proxies To Fight Durbin Amendment’s Curb On Debit Card Fees

          Recognizing that “credit card companies” and “Wall Street banks” may not have the most sympathetic political image these days, the payment card industry has enlisted small financial institutions as proxies to undercut support for Senator Dick Durbin’s (D.-IL) amendment giving the Federal Reserve the power to scrutinize fees imposed on merchants accepting debit cards.

          Durbin’s amendment was incorporated into the Senate version of the pending financial reform package by a surprisingly large, bipartisan 64-33 vote last month – thus the vociferous opposition campaign as House and Senate conferees got to work to reconcile the Senate’s version with a House bill that has no provision addressing interchange fees.  The conferees are expected to continue debating the potential curb on fees this week.

          Durbin’s amendment requires the Federal Reserve to establish rules requiring that debit card “interchange fees” are “reasonable and proportional” to the costs incurred by an issuer or payment network “with respect to” a transaction.  The Federal Reserve’s rules are to set such levels taking into consideration the fact that the debit cards are an electronic replacement for checks, which clear at par, and the incremental costs of a card transaction.  In contrast, debit card interchange fees currently can amount to 1 percent or more of a card transaction.  Merchants would like these fees reduced to reflect no more than actual processing costs, to ensure, for example, that merchants are not forced to pay for the costs associated with airline frequent flyer points awarded when a customer swipes a “rewards” debit card. 

          In response to concerns raised by community banks and credit unions during the drafting of the amendment, Durbin’s amendment expressly carved out from the sections coverage fees paid to card issuers that have assets of $10 billion or less.  According to Senator Durbin, the result is that only 85 financial institutions are covered by the debit interchange fee provision, including just the three largest of America’s over seven thousand credit unions.

           Nevertheless, credit unions and community banks have been at the forefront of the card industry’s efforts to ensure that the Durbin amendment is not included in the final financial reform legislation that emerges from the House-Senate conference process.  As the Washington Post put it, “credit unions and community banks say that [the exemption] isn’t enough in this case, arguing that they will be indirectly affected by any government efforts to curtail the lucrative fees. And they have not been shy in letting lawmakers know,” with a credit union trade association staffer announcing, “[w]e’re really trying to ramp up the noise this week.” click here for more »

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          Categories: Legislative Updates

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