Wednesday, June 09, 2021

An Antitrust Framework for False Advertising, out now

Michael A. Carrier & Rebecca Tushnet, An Antitrust Framework for False Advertising, 106 Iowa L. Rev. 1841 (2021)

From the introduction:


Federal law presumes that false advertising harms competition. Federal law also presumes that false advertising is harmless or even helpful to competition. Contradiction is not unknown to the law, of course. This contradiction, though, is acute. For not only are both the regimes at issue designed to protect competition, but they are both enforced by the same agency: the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), which targets “unfair competition” through antitrust and consumer protection enforcement.

Anticompetitive conduct, the focus of antitrust law, increases price and reduces quality. False advertising, the focus of much consumer protection law, deceives consumers and distorts markets. Both types of conduct harm consumers. Despite this overlap, nearly all courts have dismissed private antitrust claims based on false advertising. They have concluded that the conduct cannot violate antitrust law. Or they have presumed that the harm is de minimis. This makes no sense. As the Supreme Court has long established, “false or misleading advertising has an anticompetitive effect.”

Courts’ concerns stem from the reasonable notion that not every instance of false advertising violates antitrust law. And (usually implicitly) they have worried about applying antitrust’s robust remedies of treble damages and attorneys’ fees. These courts fear that antitrust liability will disincentivize companies from engaging in advertising that is merely questionable and that might provide useful information to some consumers. But false advertising law preserves a robust space for puffery and debatable opinions; overdeterrence concerns don’t justify analysis that is inconsistent with both the economics and psychology of advertising and that, at a minimum, essentially makes it impossible to bring a successful antitrust case based on false advertising. Nor do the Lanham Act’s remedies for false advertising fully address harms to competition. Reasoning that conduct that is already illegal on other grounds need not concern antitrust law ignores the multiple other contexts in which breaches of non-antitrust laws are considered to be potential antitrust violations.

We begin by introducing the laws of antitrust and false advertising, explaining the regimes’ objectives and methods. We then survey the antitrust caselaw, critiquing three approaches courts considering false advertising claims have taken. Finally, we introduce our antitrust framework for false advertising claims. At the heart of the framework is a presumption that monopolists engaging in false advertising violate antitrust law, with that presumption rebuttable if the defendant can show that the false advertising was ineffective. The framework also applies to cases of attempted monopolization by incorporating factors (falsity, materiality, and harm) inherent in false advertising law, along with competition-centered issues on targeting new market entrants and entrenching barriers to entry. To illustrate how our framework should work, we apply it to an important area: advertising for biosimilars, which are pharmaceutical products with a substantial and growing role in treating numerous diseases.

False advertising that exacerbates monopoly power has been dismissed by antitrust law for too long. This Essay seeks to resolve the contradiction in the law by showing how false advertising threatens the proper functioning of markets.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Reading list: Discrimination is Unfair: Interpreting UDA(A)P to Prohibit Discrimination

Stephen Hayes & Kali Schellenberg, Discrimination is "Unfair": Interpreting UDA(A)P to Prohibit Discrimination

This Article explores a theory that discrimination is a type of “unfair” practice covered by federal and state laws prohibiting unfair, deceptive (and sometimes abusive) acts and practices (“UDA(A)Ps”). An “unfair” practice is defined by statute as something “(1) likely to cause substantial injury to consumers; (2) which is not reasonably avoidable; and (3) that is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition.” Discrimination fits neatly within this statutory language, and its incorporation as an unfair practice is consistent with the purposes and traditional guardrails around application of UDA(A)P law, as well as general principles in civil rights jurisprudence


Applying the “unfairness-discrimination” theory would fill important gaps in the existing patchwork of antidiscrimination laws, which currently leave large swaths of the economy unregulated and unprotected from a variety of discriminatory practices, including those with a disparate impact. By taking seriously the plain language of UDA(A)P law, federal entities like the CFPB and FTC, state attorneys general and agencies, and in some cases private individuals, could make great strides towards ensuring that entire markets and industries are not free to discriminate.