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Vertical restraints under UOKIK scrutiny

Recently there has been a visible surge in the number of antitrust cases regarding various vertical agreements between undertakings on the Polish market. Anticompetitive practices of this kind are often scrutinized by the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK). What these cases have in common is the fact that the restrictions imposed on distributors concern their online business activity.

The first case involved maintaining resale prices for sport equipment of a certain manufacturer. For almost eight years, the manufacturer required distributors to charge minimum prices when selling online, and monitored their compliance. If this was not observed, the manufacturer would exert pressure, for instance by threatening to withhold supply. The manufacturer opted to make use of the leniency programme but, interestingly, withdrew from the settlement procedure despite expressing initial interest in settling the case. This might be an indication of its intention to lodge a complaint.

An anticompetitive vertical agreement on the market for office equipment was the subject of another recent UOKiK decision. UOKiK fined a manufacturer approximately EUR 100 000 for imposing minimum prices for online sales on its distributors. The UOKiK reports that the fine would have been higher had the undertaking not have applied for leniency and not presented settlement submissions. The facts in this case were quite similar to the first one.

The most recent example of measures taken by UOKiK concerns suspected restrictions on online sales of mountain bikes. The competition authority alleges that distributors who owned a brick-and-mortar store were not allowed to sell and ship bikes online. They were only allowed to gather orders and offer pick-up in stores. Sales through platforms may also have been restricted. The case is in its early stages so the allegations are yet to be confirmed.

This review of recent cases shows that vertical restraints remain a major subject of antitrust scrutiny in Poland. Any undertaking wishing to enter the Polish market should therefore review its market strategy and pricing policies to assess competition law risks.