Germany’s federal antitrust agency has imposed fines totaling €115 million against five ophthalmic lens manufacturers for participating in a price fixing scheme.
The agency, the Bundeskartellamt (BKA) said in an announcement earlier today that the companies—Rodenstock GmbH, Carl Zeiss Vision GmbH, Essilor GmbH, Rupp + Hubrach Optik GmbH, and Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH—plus seven employees and the Central Association of Optometrists (ZVA) participated in cartel agreements.
“The price agreements of the manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses have for years virtually paralyzed competition in this market,” said Andreas Mundt, president of the BKA. “The companies agreed on a regular basis to raise prices demanded from opticians. In the end the consumers had to pay the bill, because the price increases were passed on to them.”
According to the BKA’s investigations, the five manufacturers have been meeting on a regular basis since mid-2000 to coordinate their competitive behavior. The HERRZ group, whose name corresponds to the first letters of the participating companies names, was founded on a mutual wish to maintain, as far as possible, existing market structures, the BKA said. In their meetings, the representatives of the companies agreed on price surcharges, as well as conditions, bonuses and discounts granted to opticians. In addition, they regularly informed one another of specific competitive measures, such as upcoming price increases.
In the ZVA group, the five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses agreed on non-binding price recommendations for opticians. The majority of the opticians set their sales prices for ophthalmic lenses on the basis of these non-binding price recommendations. The sales prices also cover the eyeglass fabrication and dispensing services rendered by the optician and are determined on the basis of calculation formulas. At least during the meetings in 2005, the respective formulas for the calculation of the non-binding price recommendations were revealed and amendments for the subsequent three years agreed, the BKA said.
Rodenstock was granted a considerable reduction of its fine for its cooperation during the proceedings in clarifying the accusations. The fines of Hoya Lens, Carl Zeiss Vision and the ZVA were also reduced on account of their cooperation in the proceedings, the BKA statement said.
The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be appealed against at the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court. The ZVA has already agreed to have its proceedings terminated by way of a settlement. As reported earlier today in VMail, Essilor said it is contesting the validity of the BKA’s conclusions as well as the amount of the fine for its two German subsidiaries, Essilor GmbH and Rupp + Hubrach Optik GmbH and plans to lodge an appeal with the Düsseldorf court.”