Today the Bundeskartellamt imposed fines totalling € 115 million on five leading manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses in Germany, seven employees responsible and the Central Association of Optometrists (ZVA) for their involvement in cartel agreements. The companies involved are
Rodenstock GmbH, Munich,
Carl Zeiss Vision GmbH, Aalen,
Essilor GmbH, Freiburg,
Rupp+Hubrach Optik GmbH, Bamberg,
and Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH, Müllheim.
The President of the Bundeskartellamt, Andreas Mundt, stated: „The price agreements of the manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses have for years virtually paralysed competition in this market. 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 Bundeskartellamt‟s investigations the companies maintained two different types of anticompetitive agreements.
The HERRZ group
Since mid-2000 the five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses had met on a regular basis to coordinate their competitive behaviour. 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. 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.
Pricing structure working group
In another group, the ZVA „pricing structure working 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 craftsmanship 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 proceedings started with searches of the premises of the companies concerned and the ZVA in mid-2008, during which substantial evidence was seized. The initial suspicion was not based on information from a leniency applicant.
Rodenstock was granted a considerable reduction of its fine for its cooperation during the proceedings in clarifying the accusations. This reduction was granted under the Bundeskartellamt‟s Leniency Programme. The fines of Hoya Lens, Carl Zeiss Vision and the ZVA were also reduced on account of their cooperation in the proceedings.
When calculating a fine, the Bundeskartellamt also takes into account the size and economic viability of the company concerned. Where subsidiaries are concerned, their economic viability is estimated in relation to the economic performance of their company group.
The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be appealed against at the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court.
However, two of the companies concerned and the ZVA have already agreed to have their proceedings terminated by way of a settlement.