Criminal Antitrust

Antitrust legislation exists to preserve marketplaces and to protect the interests of competitors that might be vulnerable to unfair business practices. For instance, it would be impossible for a gas station to open up if all of their competitors had lower gas prices. If this occurred because the new station just can't manage to deliver gasoline at or near the market price, then that's an unfortunate reality of business. Not all participants in an industry are efficient. However, if all of the other existing gas stations in the market lowered their prices in order to run the new player out, then they are participants in a price-fixing scheme and are breaking the law.

Florida businesses are subject to state and federal antitrust laws, and both carry criminal and civil penalties. In order to avoid being involved in an a prohibited activity, it's helpful to know some of the things that are considered illegal, anti-competitive practices:

Monopolies – With very few exceptions, monopolies are illegal. A monopoly exists when a company controls all of a type of business in a given market. This could involve being the exclusive seller of a good or the sole provider of a service. An example of a legal or "natural" monopoly would be a utility that provides a single service like power or water.

Collective Refusal to Deal – This occurs when a group of businesses band together to boycott another enterprise. This could be a group of retailers refusing to buy from a certain supplier, or a group of suppliers that refuse to do business with a purchaser.

Price Fixing – Like in the gas station example, this occurs when a group of businesses all set the price of a commodity or group of commodities to the same level. The objective is usually to drive out a competitor or to squeeze additional profits from the marketplace with artificially (not driven by market forces) elevated rates.

Market Division – This occurs when a group of businesses divide up a market by geography, product, customer type, or any other metric. They agree not to go after one another's business interest in exchange for having their own left alone.

Tying – This is a business practice where the supplier requires the purchase of one product or service to procure another. Tying two products or services together is not enough to be an antitrust law violation by itself. The tying scheme must significantly restrict the market as well.

Joint Venture – Certain joint ventures can violate antitrust laws if their existence is designed to exclude other similar enterprises. Not all joint ventures would be considered illegal. Oftentimes, the determination is dependent on whether the businesses in the venture or those outside of it are in the minority.

Obviously, this is only a brief survey of illegal anti-competitive business practices. Managers of companies that are concerned about deals or contracts that could be considered illegal should seek the advice of a reputable, experienced business lawyer who is familiar with Florida and federal antitrust laws.

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