Litigation Lawyer in Milwaukee Sheds Light On Small Business & Antitrust Laws

Federal antitrust laws were first passed in the U.S. during the final years of the 19th and the first decade or so of the 20th centuries, when the likes of J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and other so-called “robber barons” dominated the country’s economy. Based on some of the old stories, many small businesses think they are immune from antitrust concerns. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are three common myths about small businesses and state and federal antitrust laws.

Myth Number 1: Google®, Apple®, and Microsoft® Should be Concerned – Not Me

Probably the most common misconception about antitrust laws is that they are of concern only to huge enterprises. While large, multi-national companies have to be careful not only to comply with American antitrust laws, but also with those of the European Union, Japan, and other countries, small businesses too can run afoul of state and federal law. While two pizza shops in a small town can hardly corner the American market, if they informally divide their market between themselves or conspire to set retail prices, they are in violation of the law. When small firms conspire to allocate markets or customers, they are just as susceptible to penalties as the largest national or international firms.

Myth Number 2: Federal and State Officials Currently Ignore Antitrust Issues

In spite of urban (and rural) legend to the contrary, government officials in Washington, DC and in Madison are active in investigating antitrust issues. Particularly where the allegations come from a whistleblower, state and federal authorities can swoop down to prosecute perceived violations.

Myth Number 3: Only Executives at the Top Face Scrutiny

This myth can be particularly troublesome. Collusion can sometimes occur at the mid-management levels of two would-be competitors. Sometimes upper management can be unaware that a market has effectively been carved into pieces, that prices have been set, or that two firms have decided to boycott a third. Agreements in restraint of trade can be at any level of an organization, not just the top.

Keys to Avoiding Antitrust Violations

Since price-fixing is known to be illegal, it is rare that the parties document their violation by committing their improper thoughts to pen and paper. Collusion can be shown in a court setting without direct evidence. Here are some tips to avoid antitrust problems:

  • As a general rule, never discuss price levels, cost structures, production figures, purchasing terms, territories, or other common business issues with a competitor.
  • If you desire to acquire information about a competitor’s business, make the effort to get the information through publically available information sources (e.g., public bid documents), or through some legitimate research organization. Don’t meet with your competitor over coffee.
  • Even in instances in which the exchange of information with a competitor is not prohibited, too much coziness between firms is just an additional factor that a jury could use against you if the case ever came to trial.

Employee Training Can Be a Key

Don’t assume that all your employees know and understand all the complicated nuances within state and federal antitrust laws. The antitrust world is a literal minefield; engineers, marketing experts, and most management-level employees have little, if any, background in understanding what is permitted and what is forbidden.

Milwaukee Business, Commercial, and Antitrust Litigation Attorneys

The Milwaukee business litigation firm of Kerkman Wagner & Dunn has more than 50 years of combined legal experience representing business owners in Wisconsin. Our focus is litigation. We have the skill and experience to take your case as far as it needs to go. We aren’t hampered by bureaucratic attitudes. We have no interest in making your legal issue fit some predetermined framework. We have found that our small firm size gives us and our clients an advantage. We can think and act nimbly. That size also allows us to operate in the type of open, accessible, and fast-moving atmosphere that promotes progressive thinking and a creative approach to meeting the needs of our clients. Our firm has big firm talent and provides small firm attention. Call us at 414-278-7000 or complete our online contact form.

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