Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Posted by D. Daniel Sokol
Barry Nalebuff of Yale's School of Management always has something interesting to write. In his most recent working paper, Unfit to Be Tied: An Analysis of Trident v. Independent Ink, he analyzes how to address tied sales by a firm with a patent. He argues that a per se rule for tying in such cases is valid.
ABSTRACT: In Illinois Tool Works and Trident v. Independent Ink, the Supreme Court overturned its longstanding per se rule against tied sales by a firm with a patent. Henceforth, market power will have to be demonstrated, whether or not the firm has a patent. Upon such demonstration, a tied sales contract will still be a per se antitrust violation. Our review of the case raises the question of why firms engage in tied sales and what is the antitrust issue. While the courts have focused on the leverage of market power, this case suggests a different concern: with complementary goods (such as a printer and ink), tying is used to engage in price discrimination via metering. The antitrust issue is that consumers will be harmed because the firm, by metering, is able to be a more effective monopolist and thereby extract more of the consumer surplus. And while perfect price discrimination may be efficient, there is no presumption that more imperfect price discrimination improves efficiency. As for the legitimate objectives, such as risk sharing, they can be met via direct metering. This suggests the wisdom of maintaining the per se rule against tied contracts when market power has been demonstrated.