Antitrust law is a broad category of U.S. federal law that regulates business enterprises. Antitrust law attempts to curtail monopolistic business activity and strives to promote a free market economy that provides consumers with a reasonable amount of choice in services, products, and costs.
There are several ways in which a business enterprise can be in violation of the antitrust law. The courts examine possible antitrust violations under a standard of "per se violations." Under this framework, all that must be proven in court is that the accused actually committed one of several "per se violations." The intent of the accused or the effects of their actions are irrelevant. Some of the more notable antitrust per se violations are:
- Lockup agreements
- Concerted refusals to deal
- Mergers where a major (and only) competitor is dissolved
There are three main statutory schemes that make up the U.S. antitrust law. Either the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission primarily enforces all three federal statutes.
- Sherman Act of 1890 – Prohibits contracts or conspiracies that restrain trade and create monopolization. A violation can result in criminal penalties, substantial fines and, for individual transgressors, prison terms. In addition, court orders restraining future violations are also available. Primarily the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department enforces the provisions of the Sherman Act.
- Clayton Act of 1914 – Deals with specific types of illegal restraints including exclusive dealing arrangements, tie-in sales, price discrimination, mergers and acquisitions, and interlocking directorates. The Clayton Act carries only civil penalties and is enforced jointly by both the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission. The Act also provides for a private lawsuit in Federal Court for damages and to restrain future violations.
- Federal Trade Commission Act – Administered solely by the Federal Trade Commission, this act is a catch-all enactment which has been construed to include all the prohibitions of the other antitrust laws. In addition, it may be utilized to fill what may appear to be loopholes in the more explicit regulatory statutes.
If you face allegations that you have violated an antitrust statute, immediate legal counsel should be sought. Violations of U.S. antitrust law are serious offenses carrying both civil and criminal penalties. Speaking with an attorney will inform you of your legal rights as well preserve any possible remedies you may have. If you believe another business violated the antitrust acts and harmed you or your company, you should speak to a business lawyer who can properly review your case.