On 23 January 2018, the Court (Grand Chamber) gave a preliminary ruling on five questions asked by the Italian Consiglio di Stato, with regard to an anti-competitive arrangement in Italy, between two distributors of medical products, Hoffmann-La Roche (“HLR”) and the Novartis Group (“Novartis”). HLR, whose name must be familiar in the eyes of competition lawyers, was yet again plagued with an unfavourable ruling. In it, the Court further clarified its case law on one of the foundations of competition law: the market definition. Generally, in antitrust cases, before being able to measure most effects of certain conduct, markets will be defined. Since the United Brands ‘bananas’ case from 1978, this has been standing case law.
Market definitions consist of a two-pronged approach, namely, a product market, and a geographical market definition. Both depend on the characteristics and intended use of the product, and of course, whether there is demand and supply of the products in question to begin with. Subsequently, products that consumers (or producers) find interchangeable to a high extent, will fall within the same market.
An example might clarify this. An element that watches, timepieces, wall clocks, and alarm clocks have in common is that they are all time-keeping instruments. However, they are unlikely to fall within the same product market. For different reasons, people want watches, timepieces aut cetera. Production costs (and thus, prices) might differ highly as well. For instance, the clock of the Big Ben is not comparable to a wrist watch. Hence, different product markets for time-keeping instruments will exist.