Acting legally, even within the specific framework of regulatory procedures, is not necessarily a defense to antitrust allegations of abuse of dominance. That's the clear--and perhaps startling-- message from the European General Court's July 2010 judgment in AstraZeneca v. European Commission.
The decision confirmed the European Commission's (EC) 2005 ruling that AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company, had abused its dominant position in the market for proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), drugs used to combat conditions such as ulcers and acid reflux. The court also upheld a EUR52.5 million fine imposed on AstraZeneca (AZ).
AZ pioneered the development of PPIs with its introduction of Losec, on which it held a patent, in the late 1980s.
On appeal, AZ argued that abuse of dominance rules should not force the company to perpetuate its marketing authorizations in aid of its competitors.
While AstraZeneca directly concerns the pharmaceutical market, it could well affect conduct in other regulated industries, particularly where innovation and patents are significant competitive factors.