Competition and the Antitrust Laws

Competition creates significant consumer benefits including increased innovation, increased efficiency of companies making and selling products and services, greater variety and higher quality of goods and services, and lower prices.

The competitive process, left free of interference, makes life harder for businesses by increasing their uncertainty. That uncertainty forces suppliers to be more efficient and more creative to avoid losing business to competitors that are more efficient and more creative.

Antitrust laws protect consumers by protecting the competitive process from interference either by companies acting together to avoid having to compete or by individual companies with substantial market power of their own taking improper actions in order to avoid having to compete.

Antitrust Laws and Enforcement

Federal antitrust laws are enforced by both the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The DOJ enforces antitrust laws by bringing both civil and criminal antitrust cases in federal courts against companies and individuals violating federal antitrust statutes. The FTC enforces the same federal statutes by bringing civil actions either in federal courts or before the agency itself; the FTC has no authority to bring criminal cases. In addition to its authority to file cases in federal courts, the FTC includes a branch that brings cases and a separate group of five commissioners who can decide cases brought before them and impose certain civil measures such as injunctions. The FTC also has a consumer protection mandate under which it enforces laws and regulations relating to privacy, deception, fraud, and unfair business practices.

In addition to the federal antitrust laws, each state and the District of Columbia has its own antitrust statutes, which are usually similar–but not identical–to federal antitrust statutes. Because the state laws are not identical, they can, and do, make illegal certain conduct that is not necessarily illegal under federal law.

State antitrust laws are enforced by state attorneys general, who can file both civil and criminal antitrust actions in state courts. State attorneys general also can file federal antitrust claims on behalf of citizens of their states.

Finally, private parties also can bring antitrust actions. Both consumers and competing businesses that believe they have been harmed by anticompetitive conduct can bring civil antitrust cases seeking to enforce both federal and state antitrust laws and to recover money for the damages they have suffered.

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