The newly appointed European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, today announced the launch by the European Commission (the “Commission”) of a so-called “sector inquiry” into e-commerce.
In particular, the Commission has announced that the inquiry will focus on those areas (goods and services) where e-commerce is most widespread – notably electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content, and will extend to all EU Member States.
The Commission appears particularly keen also to consider barriers to cross-border online trade. It singles out contractual restrictions in distribution agreements that prevent retailers from selling goods or services purchased online or cross-border to customers located in another EU country.
In this note, we outline the ambit of the inquiry, its background, the role and function of this type of investigation, and outline the extensive nature of the Commission’s powers in this regard.
This particular inquiry is likely to bring into sharp focus the issue of ‘brand equity’ and how it may be appropriately managed in the environment of the ‘disruptive’ technology of the internet. In that context, we consider the lasting impact that the Commission’s most recently completed sector inquiry has had upon the pharmaceutical sector within the European Union (the “EU”). Lastly, we identify practical issues relevant to possible subjects of this inquiry.