Recently, I was honored to be interviewed by Forbes Magazine concerning illegal price-fixing and collusion in Taiwan. In case you missed it, here’s the full interview: Continue reading
Corporate bribery is in the headlines. Last week, the media was reporting accusations that Hong Kong’s top government official took $6.4 million in bribes from an Australian engineering firm. Before that, a top official in China’s central planning commission admitted taking $5.8 million in bribes from Toyota and other companies, and a Chinese court fined GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) $500 million for bribing doctors. Before that, Alcoa settled bribery charges in the U.S. for $380 million, while Hewlett-Packard settled charges for $108 million.
Each time, the news is followed by a flurry of articles from corporate compliance experts urging companies to take ethics and compliance more seriously, including obtaining full support of the CEO and Board, assigning oversight responsibility to high-level personnel, allocating resources, implementing policies and procedures, providing regular education and training, incentives and discipline, performing continuous auditing, monitoring and fine-tuning, and responding promptly to any violations.
Some may feel that’s a bit much, that, “Our company values ethics and integrity, but can’t afford a full-blown compliance program.” In truth, most global companies can’t afford not to implement such measures, and it’s not just about bribery. Below are some reasons why companies should honestly assess their compliance programs and make earnest efforts to plug any gaps. Continue reading
Patent law and antitrust law have long had an uneasy relationship. A patent is a legal monopoly, but antitrust law favors market competition and abhors monopolies. Consequently, U.S. courts have struggled for over a century to define reasonable boundaries between the two disciplines.
In the U.S., the Sherman Antitrust Act is at the core of most antitrust litigation. In the early years of the Act, patents were seen as almost immune from its reach, with the Supreme Court stating a general rule of, “absolute freedom in the use or sale of rights under the patent laws. . . The very object of these laws is monopoly.” E. Bennett & Sons v. National Harrow Co., 186 U.S. 70 (1902). But laws evolve and today courts usually apply a “rule of reason” approach when evaluating whether conduct unreasonably restrains competition, with the Supreme Court declaring “patent and antitrust policies are both relevant.” FTC v. Actavis, 570 U.S. 756 (2013).
Globalization further complicates matters. While a patent basically confers rights only within the country in which it is granted and the doctrine of comity disfavors interfering in the affairs of other nations, global manufacturing and sourcing of components, “is increasingly common in our modern global economy, and antitrust law has long recognized that anticompetitive injuries can be transmitted through multi-layered supply chains.” Lotes Co., Ltd. v. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., No. 13-2280 (2d Cir. 2014).
However, the test for application of the Sherman Act to foreign parties and foreign conduct has become increasingly clear, in particular with several U.S. cases decided earlier this year, one of which involved allegations of egregious patent licensing conduct in China. Continue reading
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
The extent to which U.S. antitrust law liability may be imposed on foreign parties for foreign conduct remains somewhat uncertain, as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals just vacated its March 27 decision in Motorola Mobility, LLC v. AU Optronics Corp. and agreed to re-hear plaintiff’s case against several Asian companies for alleged violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act based on activities that took place in Asia.
Motorola Mobility filed the underlying lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that several foreign manufacturers of liquid-crystal display (“LCD”) panels, including Samsung, Sharp and AU Optronics allegedly engaged in illegal price-fixing that caused plaintiff to pay higher prices for the panels than it should have. The district court dismissed most of plaintiff’s antitrust claims and, in March, the Seventh Circuit affirmed on the grounds that plaintiff failed to meet the criteria required by the U.S. Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (“FTAIA”). Continue reading
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” We’ve all heard those words a thousand times in crime dramas, as the cops handcuff the bad guy and haul him away. Most lawyers recognize that as part of the Miranda warning, uttered by police in criminal cases to avoid violating the suspect’s rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
What many don’t know, especially here in Asia, is the Fifth Amendment may also provide a valid excuse – even for foreign citizens – to avoid testifying in a U.S. civil lawsuit. On its face, the Fifth Amendment appears to be limited to criminal cases. It states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” However, courts have long held that the Fifth Amendment privilege “can be asserted in any proceeding, civil or criminal, administrative or judicial, investigatory or adjudicatory.” Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 445 (1972).
Consequently, it is not uncommon for witnesses in civil lawsuits to refuse to answer deposition questions based on that privilege, so long as the testimony could possibly lead to criminal liability. At first, the tactic may seem an easy way out for the witness. However, there are serious risks to invoking – or not invoking – the privilege, so anyone for whom the subject may be relevant should consult with experienced Fifth Amendment counsel. Continue reading
Taiwan liquid-crystal-display (LCD) manufacturer, AU Optronics Corp. (AUO), took a gamble and lost big in a criminal case brought against it in the U.S., based on several years of regular price-fixing activities in the LCD-panel industry. A San Francisco jury found AUO guilty in March 2012, after an eight-week trial, but the court announced the sentence just this past week, ordering AUO to pay US$500 million and sentencing two of the company’s top-executives to three years in prison.
AUO was found guilty of participating in more than 60 meetings between 2001 and 2006, at which AUO and most of the other leading manufacturers of thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD-panels conspired to fix production levels and prices of TFT-LCD panels, which are used in computers, cell phones and other products.
It was a rare trial, as defendants in such cases almost always enter into plea bargains. In fact, AUO and its officers were the only defendants in the case who chose to go to trial, with seven other Asian manufacturers and 22 of their executives all pleading guilty, agreeing to pay combined fines of $890 million and accepting prison sentences ranging from six months to slightly over one year. Continue reading