May 11, 2009

Justice Dept. to revise antitrust policies

The U.S. Justice Department plans to jettison the Bush administration's pro-defendant antitrust policies, department consultants said.

The head of the department's antitrust division Christine Varney, is expected to outline the change of direction in two speeches this week, the first in front of the Center for American Progress on Monday and the second on Tuesday for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The New York Times reported.

In part, the policy shift reflects the Obama administration's belief smaller companies require support in tough economic times, the newspaper said.

It also may heal a division between the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. In 2008, three of four trade commissioners rejected a 215-page Justice Department policy report that supported a relatively Darwinian approach, allowing companies to fight it out in the marketplace.

The report was a blueprint for radically weakened enforcement, the dissenting commissioners said.

The new shift will be bad news for heavyweights in the tech industries -- companies like Google and Microsoft, said Herbert Hovenkamp, University of Iowa College of Law Professor Herbert Hovenkamp.

People aligned with plaintiffs will rejoice. Those aligned with defendants will wring their hands, he said.