The Legality of Legacy Business Practices in Antitrust


There is void in the literature at the intersection of antitrust law and legacy business practices. This issue has come to forefront with Epic Games’ antitrust suit against Apple for its App Store policies, which have been in place ever since the online marketplace opened in 2008. The same issues are at the center of the current Apple v. Pepper litigation and in regulatory proposals to alter Apple’s business practices both at the state and federal levels. Legacy conduct has also played a role in the Supreme Court’s controversial Ohio v. American Express decision and the Ninth Circuit’s FTC v. Qualcomm decision.

This raises a question as to how antitrust should treat long-standing business practices—practices that this Article labels “legacy conduct”—that initially were benign or even procompetitive, but which come under heavy scrutiny once the firm employing it obtains considerable market power. The fundamental question raised here is whether the fact that a product has become highly successful turns a previously legitimate business practice into one that antitrust should treat as objectionable.

This Article contends that three fundamental considerations should govern the proper assessment of cases involving legacy conduct under a rule of reason analysis. Further, this Article advances a policy recommendation that legacy conduct instituted long before a firm achieves substantial market power (particularly at the time of entry) and is common across competitors who do not themselves possess substantial market power, should be considered probative evidence that the practice is procompetitive. When these conditions are satisfied, defendants should be afforded a substantially reduced burden in proving the restraint is procompetitive under a rule of reason analysis commensurate with the strength of the legacy evidence.