Last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed criminal convictions against AU Optronics (“AUO”), a Taiwanese maker of Thin-Film Liquid Crystal Display (“TFT-LCD”) panels, its U.S. subsidiary and two of its top executives, for illegal price-fixing that resulted in prison sentences of thirty-six months for each of the individuals and a $500 million fine for AUO. The case offers many stark lessons to global manufacturers whose employees may communicate with competitors about the pricing and supply of their products.
Initially, AUO was one of several leading TFT-LCD manufacturers indicted in the Northern District of California for conspiring to fix prices for TFT-LCDs in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, based on a series of meetings that took place between the alleged conspirators. In the meetings, the defendants discussed prices at which they would sell TFT-LCDs to their U.S. customers, including Dell, Compaq and HP.
AUO was the only accused company to take the case to trial, with rivals including LG Display, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Chi Mei Optoelectronics and Sharp Corp. all pleading guilty and paying a total of more than $890 million in fines. At trial, the jury found AUO and its executives guilty and imposed the $500 million fine. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the AUO convictions and fine. While the decision addresses many points, a few are particularly noteworthy. Continue reading