Earlier this week, the European Commission fined Sony, Panasonic, and Sanyo for antitrust violations regarding their successful attempts to manipulate the phone and laptop battery market in Europe. The trio of Japanese tech giants was issued €166 million in fines, which amounts to approximately $176 million USD. These fines were issued after Sony, Panasonic, and Sanyo admitted to being guilty of fixing prices of batteries designed for various consumer electronics. Interestingly enough, Samsung's battery-making division Samsung SDI was also complicit in the scheme but avoided any fines because it uncovered the said plot. As Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition explained on Monday, this collusion directly affected the prices of various goods sold on the territory of the European Union.
As price fixing is a textbook example of anti-competitive collusion, this type of activity is subject to sanctions from the European Union's antitrust watchdog. An investigation conducted by the European Commission found that Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and Sanyo were colluding for approximately four years and have often held meetings across Asia to plan their price fixing schemes. More specifically, the plot was related to the lithium-ion battery market which covers batteries manufactured for everything from smartphones, tablets, and laptops to notebooks, digital cameras, and camcorders. It's worth noting that this cartel wasn't broken recently. In fact, the fines stated above were primarily issued as sanctions for activities that took place between early 2004 and late 2007. Back then, these companies agreed to a temporary price increase of lithium-ion batteries which resulted in an increased price of cobalt, an important material used in the production of such batteries. In addition to that, the four South Eastern tech giants also shared sensitive commercial information among themselves, including market forecasts and plans related to competitive bids from other consumer electronics manufacturers.
Not surprisingly, no members of this former cartel were willing to comment on the European Commission's ruling. However, all of them admitted to their involvement and expressed willingness to settle the matter without going through judicial proceedings. While Samsung avoided the fine because it tipped off the European Commission about these antitrust violations, the Seoul-based conglomerate was supposed to receive a €57.7 million fine. Regarding other involved parties, Sanyo will pay more than half of the total fine, i.e. €97 million. Sony and Panasonic will pay €29 million and €38.9 million, respectively.