Glossary of competition terms

This Glossary was prepared by DG COMP and the OECD for non-competition specialists. Each term is enriched with references of national case laws from the e-Competitions Bulletin. (© European Union - © OECD)

Anticompetitive Practices

Refers to a wide range of business practices in which a firm or group of firms may engage in order to restrict inter-firm competition to maintain or increase their relative market position and profits without necessarily providing goods and services at a lower cost or of higher quality.

The essence of competition entails attempts by firm(s) to gain advantage over rivals. However, the boundary of acceptable business practices may be crossed if firms contrive to artificially limit competition by not building so much on their advantages but on exploiting their market position to the disadvantage or detriment of competitors, customers and suppliers such that higher prices, reduced output, less consumer choice, loss of economic efficiency and misallocation of resources (or combinations thereof) are likely to result.

Which types of business practices are likely to be construed as being anticompetitive and, if that, as violating competition law, will vary by jurisdiction and on a case by case basis. Certain practices may be viewed as per se illegal while others may be subject to rule of reason. Resale price maintenance, for example, is viewed in most jurisdictions as being per se illegal whereas exclusive dealing may be subject to rule of reason. The standards for determining whether or not a business practice is illegal may also differ. In the United States, price fixing agreements are per se illegal whereas in Canada the agreement must cover a substantial part of the market. With these caveats in mind, competition laws in a large number of countries examine and generally seek to prevent a wide range of business practices which restrict competition.

These practices are broadly classified into two groups: horizontal and vertical restraints on competition. The first group includes specific practices such as cartels, collusion, conspiracy, mergers, predatory pricing, price discrimination and price fixing agreements. The second group includes practices such as exclusive dealing, geographic market restrictions, refusal to deal/sell, resale price maintenance and tied selling. Generally speaking, horizontal restraints on competition primarily entail other competitors in the market whereas vertical restraints entail supplier-distributor relationships.

However, it should be noted that the distinction between horizontal and vertical restraints on competition is not always clear cut and practices of one type may impact on the other. For example, firms may adopt strategic behaviour to foreclose competition. They may attempt to do so by pre-empting facilities through acquisition of important sources of raw material supply or distribution channels, enter into long term contracts to purchase available inputs or capacity and engage in exclusive dealing and other practices. These practices may raise barriers to entry and entrench the market position of existing firms and/or facilitate anticompetitive arrangements.