Asus, Philips, and others fined for price fixing in Europe

The European Commission, fresh off of handing Google a record $5 billion antitrust fine, is keeping a busy summer schedule by announcing four more fines for tech companies today. Publicized in Brussels today, the penalties affect Asus, the Denon and Marantz partnership, Philips, and Pioneer. There’s been no collusion between the four manufacturers, but the commission has bundled the four decisions into one announcement because they all boil down to the same unlawful activity. Each of the offending parties has admitted to interfering with the pricing of online retailers so as to maintain artificially high prices for its products.

Asus has been found guilty of intervening to prevent online retailers in Germany and France from selling its laptops and displays below its recommended resale prices. Denon and Marantz kept the pricing of their headphones and speakers in Germany and the Netherlands higher than the market could otherwise sustain. Philips engaged in similar shenanigans with almost its entire portfolio of products in France, everything from kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners to electric toothbrushes and trimmers. Pioneer spanned the widest geographical range with 12 affected EU member states, including Germany, France, and the UK. Aside from price fixing, the company also rejected orders from retailers who wanted to sell across borders within the EU, thereby sustaining different pricing in different countries.

Cooperation from the offending companies has netted them big discounts on the European Commission’s final fines, with the majority of them getting 40 percent off their penalty and Pioneer, apparently the penitence star, getting 50 percent off its fine. Asus will still have to pay $74.4 million, Denon and Marantz will pay $9 million, Philips owes $34.9 million, and Pioneer is on the hook for $11.9 million. All of the relevant breaches of the EU’s rules took place between 2011 and 2013 (extending to 2014 for Asus and 2015 in Denon & Marantz’s case), but even with active cooperation, they took years to bring to a final conclusion.

In all cases, the commission’s intent has been to protect the rights of European citizens to have a free choice when shopping, unencumbered by border considerations. The free movement of goods, people, and services is fundamental to the European Union’s foundation and reason for being, and so any interference from the corporate world to distort the market or fix prices is being met with a stern and spirited rebuke.