Resale price maintenance

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Resale price maintenance (RPM) is the practice whereby a manufacturer and its distributors agree that the distributors will sell the manufacturer's product at certain prices (resale price maintenance), at or above a price floor (minimum resale price maintenance) or at or below a price ceiling (maximum resale price maintenance). If a reseller refuses to maintain prices, either openly or covertly (see grey market), the manufacturer may stop doing business with it.[1]

Resale price maintenance prevents resellers from competing too fiercely on price, especially with regard to fungible goods. Otherwise, resellers worry it could drive down profits for themselves as well as for the manufacturer. Some argue that the manufacturer may do this because it wishes to keep resellers profitable, thus keeping the manufacturer profitable. Others contend that minimum resale price maintenance, for instance, overcomes a failure in the market for distributional services by ensuring that distributors who invest in promoting the manufacturer's product are able to recoup the additional costs of such promotion in the price that they charge consumers.

Some manufacturers also defend resale price maintenance by saying it ensures fair returns, both for manufacturer and reseller and that governments do not have the right to interfere with freedom to make contracts without a very good reason. Governments can sometimes be seen as upholding price controls as in the case of CD WOW!. When a Minimum Resale Price is set on a product, it is easy for consumers to find that product's lowest price. That makes shopping much easier. Two non-competing sellers of any offer (not just a manufacturer's product) can set a Minimum Resale Price on it.

United Kingdom law[edit]

In Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge & Co Ltd [1915] AC 847, an English contract law case, the House of Lords held that Dunlop Tyres (a tyre manufacturer) could not enforce an agreement between a tyre dealer and a tyre buyer to pay £5 per sale under a liquidated damages clause if tyres were sold (other than to motor traders) below the list price. However, this had nothing to do with the legality of resale price maintenance clauses, which was not in any question at the time: the decision was based on the doctrine of privity of contract as Selfridges had bought Dunlop's goods from an intermediary. In the case of Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v New Garage & Motor Co Ltd [1915] AC 79 the House of Lords upheld the enforceability of the requirement in the resale price maintenance clause, to pay £5 damages per item sold below list price, on the basis that it was not a penalty clause (which would be unenforceable) but a valid and enforceable liquidated damages clause.

In 1955, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report Collective Discrimination - A Report on Exclusive Dealing, Aggregated Rebates and Other Discriminatory Trade Practices recommended that resale price maintenance, when collectively enforced by manufacturers should be made illegal, but individual manufacturers should be allowed to continue the practice. The report was the basis for the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1956, specifically prohibiting collective enforcement of resale price maintenance in the UK. Restrictive agreements had to be registered at the Restrictive Practices Court and were considered on individual merit.

In 1964, the Resale Prices Act was passed, which now considered all resale price agreements to be against public interest unless proven otherwise. In 2010, in what could be a landmark case, the Office of Fair Trading started to investigate [2] allegations of resale price maintenance in the hotel industry. The investigation will focus on allegations that there could be agreements and concerted practices resulting in fixed or minimum resale prices.[3]

In relation to competition, Article 101 and Article 102 of the Treaty on Functioning of the EU (TFEU) are paramount over all member states' national laws relating to competition. The ECJ and the Commission have both held that Resale Price Maintenance is generally prohibited. UK law must apply this interpretation when dealing with inter member-state agreements between undertakings.

United States law[edit]

On June 28, 2007, the Supreme Court overruled Dr. Miles, discussed below, holding that such vertical price restraints as Minimum Advertised Pricing are not per se unlawful but, rather, must be judged under the "rule of reason." Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., Slip Op. No. 06–480 (Decided June 28, 2007).[4] This marked a dramatic shift on how attorneys and enforcement agencies address the legality of contractual minimum prices and essentially allowed the reestablishment of resale price maintenance in the United States in most (but not all) commercial situations.

In Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park and Sons, 220 U.S. 373 (1911), the United States Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's holding that a massive minimum resale price maintenance scheme was unreasonable and thus offended Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The decision rested on the assertion that minimum resale price maintenance is indistinguishable in economic effect from naked horizontal price fixing by a cartel. Subsequent decisions characterized Dr Miles as holding that minimum resale price maintenance is unlawful per se (automatically).

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, a large number of U.S. states began passing fair trade laws. These were intended to protect independent retailers from the price-cutting competition of large chain stores by authorizing resale price maintenance. Since these laws allowed vertical price fixing, they directly conflicted with the Sherman Antitrust Act, and Congress had to carve out a special exception for them with the Miller-Tydings Act of 1937. This special exception was expanded in 1952 by the McGuire Act (which overruled a 1951 Supreme Court decision that gave a narrower reading of the Miller-Tydings Act).

The fair trade laws became widely unpopular after World War II and so the Miller-Tydings Act and the McGuire Act were repealed by the Consumer Goods Pricing Act of 1975.

In 1968, the Supreme Court extended the per se rule against minimum resale price maintenance to maximum resale price maintenance, in Albrecht v. Herald Co., 390 U.S. 145 (1968). The Court opined that such contracts always limited the freedom of dealers to price as they wished. The Court also opined that the practice "may" channel distribution through a few large, efficient dealers, prevent dealers from offering essential services, and that the "maximum" price could instead become a minimum price.

In 1997, the Supreme Court overruled Albrecht, in State Oil v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3 (1997).

Several decades after Dr Miles, scholars began to question the assertion that minimum resale price maintenance, a vertical restraint, was the economic equivalent of a naked horizontal cartel. In 1960, Lester G. Telser, an economist at the University of Chicago, argued that manufacturers could employ minimum resale price maintenance as a tool to ensure that dealers engaged in the desired promotion of a manufacturer's product through local advertising, product demonstrations, and the like. Without such contractual restraints, Telser said, no frills distributors might "free ride" on the promotional efforts of full service distributors, thereby undermining the incentives of full service dealers to expend resources on promotion.

Six years later, Robert Bork reiterated and expanded upon Telser's argument, contending that resale price maintenance was simply one form of contractual integration, analogous to complete vertical integration, that could overcome a failure in the market for distributional services. Bork also argued that non-price vertical restraints, such as exclusive territories, could achieve the same results.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court held that non-price vertical restraints, such as vertically imposed exclusive territories, were to be analyzed under a fact-based "rule of reason." In so doing, the Court embraced the logic of Bork and Telser as applied to such restraints, opining that, in a "purely competitive situation," dealers might free ride on each other's promotional efforts.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the repeal of Miller-Tydings implied that the Sherman Act's complete ban of vertical price fixing was again effective, and that even the 21st Amendment could not shield California's liquor resale price maintenance regime from the reach of the Sherman Act. California Liquor Dealers v. Midcal Aluminum, 445 U.S. 97 (1980). Thus, from the 1975 enactment of the Consumer Goods Pricing Act to the 2007 Leegin decision, resale price maintenance was again no longer legal in the United States.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ This was what actually happened in the important U.S. Supreme Court case, Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. (2007).
  2. ^ http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/competition-act-and-cartels/ca98-current/online-booking/
  3. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11330463
  4. ^ http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/06pdf/06-480.pdf

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]