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Konkurrensklausuler vid företagsöverlåtelse - ur en avtalsrättslig och konkurrensrättslig synvinkel

Andersson, Richard LU (2015) JUR092 20151
Department of Law
Abstract (Swedish)
En konkurrensklausul är en förpliktelse i konkurrensförebyggande syfte och är ofta förekommande vid företagsöverlåtelser. Vid företagsförvärv som innefattar goodwill och/eller know-how uppkommer ett behov för köparen att söka skydd mot att säljaren, med sitt försprång, efter förvärvet inte startar upp en ny konkurrerande verksamhet. Den rådande konkurrenssituationen kan vara en förutsättning för att köparen över huvud taget skall ha intresse av att genomföra affären. Säljaren förpliktar sig att inom vissa ramar inte med köparen bedriva konkurrerande verksamhet. Konkurrensklausuler kan vara olika omfattande vad gäller innehåll, bindningstid samt geografiskt tillämpningsområde.

Alla konkurrensklausuler kan ses ur en avtalsrättslig... (More)
En konkurrensklausul är en förpliktelse i konkurrensförebyggande syfte och är ofta förekommande vid företagsöverlåtelser. Vid företagsförvärv som innefattar goodwill och/eller know-how uppkommer ett behov för köparen att söka skydd mot att säljaren, med sitt försprång, efter förvärvet inte startar upp en ny konkurrerande verksamhet. Den rådande konkurrenssituationen kan vara en förutsättning för att köparen över huvud taget skall ha intresse av att genomföra affären. Säljaren förpliktar sig att inom vissa ramar inte med köparen bedriva konkurrerande verksamhet. Konkurrensklausuler kan vara olika omfattande vad gäller innehåll, bindningstid samt geografiskt tillämpningsområde.

Alla konkurrensklausuler kan ses ur en avtalsrättslig synvinkel. Flertalet av dem måste emellertid även betraktas ur en konkurrensrättslig synvinkel eftersom de kan ha negativ påverkan på den fria konkurrensen.

Beträffande förhållandet mellan EG:s konkurrensregler och de svenska konkurrensreglerna har EG-rättens konkurrensregler stått som modell för den svenska regleringen vilket också avspeglas i praxis. Det råder i stort sett fullständig överensstämmelse mellan Kommissionens och KKV:s praxis. Av den anledningen är det lätt att dra ett likhetstecken mellan svensk och EG-rättslig praxis, med reservation för att den svenska tillämpningen i visst avseende är anpassad efter svenska förhållanden samt att omständigheterna i det enskilda fallet är unika och bedömningarna således baserade därefter.

När det gäller den avtalsrättsliga synvinkeln finns en särskild bestämmelse för konkurrensklausuler i 38 § AvtL. Utgångspunkten är att de är giltiga såvida de inte är oskäliga. Vid skälighetsbedömningen görs en avvägning mellan parternas motstående enskilda intressen. Praxis på området är synnerligen sparsam vilket leder till att gränsdragningen mellan en avtalsrättsligt giltig konkurrensklausul och en ogiltig sådan är svår att fastställa. Av den praxis som finns tillgänglig framgår att det tillämpas en strikt avtalsrättslig bedömning där principen om pacta sunt servanda varit dominerande. Det har förekommit att en bindningstid på fem år godkänts trots att det rörde sig om skydd av goodwill. Eftersom goodwill generellt anses mindre skyddsvärt än skydd för know-how följer att ännu längre bindningstider troligtvis kan godtas för konkurrensklausuler som omfattar skydd av know-how. Det geografiska tillämpningsområdet är obehandlat i praxis vilket delvis kan bero på att i flertalet av konkurrensklausulerna var inte det geografiska området specificerat. Om skyddet avser goodwill bör inte det geografiska området få sträcka sig längre än det faktiska behovet vid köpet. Om skyddet avser know-how som generellt kan utnyttjas över ett större geografiskt område förefaller det rimligt att ett större geografiskt område kan tillåtas. Det förefaller inte osannolikt att ett nästan obegränsat område skulle kunna godtas.

Utgångspunkten i den konkurrensrättsliga regleringen är att konkurrensklausuler är ogiltiga. För att omfattas av det allmänna förbudet mot konkurrensbegränsande avtal i Art 81.1 RF eller 6 § KL skall det vara fråga om ett avtal som har till syfte eller resultat att hindra, begränsa eller snedvrida konkurrensen. För EG-rättens tillämplighet krävs dessutom att det kan påverka handeln mellan medlemsstater. För att förbuden skall vara tillämpliga finns dessutom ett krav på att konkurrensklausulen har märkbarhet. Märkbarheten har delats in i kvantitativ märkbarhet respektive kvalitativ märkbarhet. Kravet på märkbarhet möjliggör att en konkurrensklausul inte kommer att träffas av förbuden.

Har konkurrensklausulens parter en svag ställning på marknaden och bara obetydligt påverkar den uppfylls inte det kvantitativa kravet. Vid bedömningen finns tröskelvärden uppställda i ett tillkännagivande från Kommissionen. Om parternas gemensamma marknadsandelar överstiger nämnda tröskelvärden är kravet på kvantitativ märkbarhet uppfyllt. Av detta följer att konkurrensklausuler mellan många små och medelstora företag i regel inte uppfyller kravet på kvantitativ märkbarhet.

Förutom ett krav på kvantitativ märkbarhet så skall konkurrensklausulen även vara kvalitativt märkbar. Konkurrensklausulen får inte begränsa konkurrensen på ett märkbart sätt i ett kvalitativt hänseende. Den kvalitativa märkbarhetsbedömningen kan liknas med ett rimlighetsresonemang. Den kategorin avser konkurrensbegränsningar som är objektivt nödvändiga för genomförandet av ett avtal vilket bedöms mot bakgrund av om klausulens materiella omfattning, geografiska tillämpningsområde och giltighetstid är nödvändig för att garantera värdet av de överförda tillgångarna.

Vid den kvalitativa bedömningen kan en konkurrensklausul rättfärdigas med argumentet att utan konkurrensklausulen hade inte företagsöverlåtelsen kommit till stånd. Förutom konkurrensklausulens betydelse i detta avseende har strukturen på marknaden betydelse. Är det en fragmenterad marknad kan konkurrensklausulen undgå förbuden. Är konkurrensklausulen av denna karaktär kan det innebära att det kvalitativa kravet på märkbarhet inte är uppfyllt. Därmed undgår konkurrensklausulen förbuden.

Om parterna i företagsförvärvet överstiger vissa angivna tröskelvärden blir reglerna om kontroll av företagskoncentrationer tillämpliga. Godkänns koncentrationen kan konkurrensklausulen accepteras om den anses som en accessorisk begränsning. Klausulen skall då bedömas i samband med koncentrationen och undgår därmed förbuden i Art. 81.1 RF respektive 6 § KL. Om konkurrensklausulen skall komma att bedömas som accessorisk beror till stor del på dess materiella omfattning, geografiska tillämpningsområde samt bindningstid.

När det gäller längden av en konkurrensklausuls bindningstid framgår av praxis att en längre bindningstid kan godtas vid företagskoncentrationer som omfattar såväl goodwill som know-how jämfört med koncentrationer som endast omfattar goodwill. Om det endast är fråga om överföring av goodwill godtas normalt en bindningstid på högst två år. Om förvärvet omfattar både know-how och goodwill är i regel en bindningstid på tre år acceptabel.

När det gäller den geografiska räckvidden för att en konkurrensklausul skall accepteras som accessorisk måste den normalt vara begränsad till det område där det förvärvade företaget marknadsförde sina varor eller tjänster vid tiden för koncentrationen.

Beträffande förhållandet mellan avtalsrätt och konkurrensrätt är redan utgångspunkten den motsatta de båda rättsområdena emellan, nämligen att avtalsrätten utgår ifrån att konkurrensklausuler är giltiga medan konkurrensrättens utgångspunkt är att konkurrensklausuler är förbjudna och ogiltiga. Den allmänna utgångspunkten torde vara att om en konkurrensklausul faller utanför konkurrensrättens regler och därmed är konkurrensrättsligt giltig så är den också avtalsrättsligt giltig. Det allmänna förbudet mot konkurrensbegränsande avtal i 6 § AvtL kan sägas ge uttryck för samhällets grundläggande värderingar på konkurrensrättens område. Bestämmelsen kan också anses vara en betydelsefull del i den centrala lagstiftningen. Det synsätt och de värderingar som uttrycks genom den konkurrensrättsliga bestämmelsen skulle även till viss del kunna återspeglas i en strikt avtalsrättslig bedömning. Från allmän synpunkt skulle det kunna vara lämpligt att ytterligare ett företag etableras. Det skulle kunna medföra fördelar för allmänheten vad avser service och priser. Marknaden skulle kunna tåla och kanske t.o.m. må bra av att konkurrensen ökar. Denna bedömning har dock hitintills inte skett i praxis. Framtiden får utvisa om de konkurrensrättsliga normerna tillåts integreras i den avtalsrättsliga bedömningen. (Less)
Abstract
A non-competition clause is an undertaking in competition prevention and is frequently used in a company transfers. In the case of company acquisitions that include goodwill and/or expertise, a need arises for the buyer to seek protection that the vendor, with its lead, does not start up a new, competing business after the acquisition. The current competitive situation may be a prerequisite for the buyer having any interest in completing the deal. The vendor undertakes to, within certain limits, not to engage in business that is in competition with the purchaser. Competition clauses may differ in how comprehensive they are in their content, term and geographic scope.

All non-competition clauses can be considered from a contractual... (More)
A non-competition clause is an undertaking in competition prevention and is frequently used in a company transfers. In the case of company acquisitions that include goodwill and/or expertise, a need arises for the buyer to seek protection that the vendor, with its lead, does not start up a new, competing business after the acquisition. The current competitive situation may be a prerequisite for the buyer having any interest in completing the deal. The vendor undertakes to, within certain limits, not to engage in business that is in competition with the purchaser. Competition clauses may differ in how comprehensive they are in their content, term and geographic scope.

All non-competition clauses can be considered from a contractual point of view. Most of them, however, must also be considered from a competition law aspect, because they can have a negative impact on free competition.

As regards the relationship between EU competition regulations and the Swedish competition regulations, the EU Court's competition regulations were used as a model for the Swedish legislation, and that is also reflected in their application. There is almost complete agreement between the Commission's and the Competition Authority's practice. For this reason, it is easy to equate Swedish and European legal practice, with the reservation that the Swedish application in a certain respect has been adapted to Swedish conditions, and that the circumstances of the individual case are unique, so that assessments are therefore based accordingly.

As far as the contractual aspect is concerned, there is a specific provision for non-competition clauses in Section 38 of the Contracts Act. The premise is that they are valid unless they are unreasonable. An assessment of fairness strikes a balance between the parties' opposing individual interests. Practice in this area is extremely sparse, with the result that the distinction between a contractually valid non-competition clause and an invalid one is difficult to determine. The practice that is available shows that a strict contractual assessment is applied, in which the principle of pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept] has been dominant. A binding period of five years has been approved even though it concerned protection of the goodwill. As goodwill is generally regarded as less worthy of protection than the protection of expertise it follows that even longer periods should probably be accepted for competition clauses that cover protection of expertise. There is no precedence for geographical scope, which may partly be due to the fact that geographical areas have not been specified in the majority of non-competition clauses. If protection concerns goodwill, the geographical area should not extend beyond the actual need for the purchase. If protection concerns expertise which can generally be utilized over a large geographical area, it seems reasonable that a large geographical area should be allowed. It seems not unlikely that an almost unlimited range would be acceptable.
The basis of the competition law regulation is that non-competition clauses are invalid. To be covered by the general prohibition on restrictive agreements in Art. 81.1 RF or Section 6 of the Competition Act, it must be a question of a contract that has the purpose or effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition. If EU law is to be applicable, it presupposes that it may affect trade between Member States. For prohibitions to apply there is also a requirement that the non-competition clause is appreciable. The degree of this has been divided into quantitatively and qualitatively appreciable. The requirement to being appreciable enables bans not to apply to a non-competition clause.

If the parties to the non-competition clause occupy a weak position in the market and have only a slight impact on it, the quantitative requirement is not met. The assessment thresholds have been set in a Commission notice. If the parties' combined market share exceeds the thresholds, the demand for quantitatively appreciable is met. It follows from this that non-competition clauses between many small and medium enterprises generally do not meet the requirement of quantitatively appreciable.

In addition to a requirement for being quantitatively appreciable, the competition clause must also be qualitatively appreciable. The non-competition clause must not restrict competition appreciably in qualitative terms. The qualitatively appreciable assessment can be likened to a reasonableness argument. The category refers to restrictions of competition that are objectively necessary for the implementation of an agreement which is assessed in the light of whether the clause's substantive scope, geographic scope and duration are necessary to guarantee the value of the transferred assets.

In a qualitative assessment, a non-competition clause can be justified with the argument that without the competition clause, no business transfer would have taken place. In addition to the significance of the non-competition clause in this regard, the structure of the market is also important. If the market is fragmented, the non-competition clause can evade the ban. If the non-competition clause is of this nature, it may mean that the qualitatively appreciable requirement is not met. It thereby evades the ban on non-competition clauses.

If the parties to the company transfer exceed given thresholds, the rules concerning control of company mergers will apply. If the merger is approved, the non-competition clause can be accepted if it is considered to be an ancillary restraint. This clause shall then be assessed in connection with the merger and thus avoid the prohibitions in Art. 81.1 RF and Section 6 of the Competition Act. Whether the non-competition clause is regarded as ancillary largely depends on its material scope, geographic scope and duration.

With regard to the length of a non-competition clause, it has been seen in practice that a longer period is acceptable for mergers that include both goodwill and expertise, compared to mergers that only involve goodwill. If there is only a question of the transfer of goodwill, a term not exceeding two years is normally accepted. If the acquisition includes both expertise and goodwill a period of three years is usually acceptable.

With regard to the geographical scope, if a non-competition clause is to be accepted as ancillary, it must normally be limited to the area where the acquired company was marketing its goods or services at the time of the merger.

Regarding the relationship between contract law and competition law, the basis is opposite between the two legal areas, namely that contract law assumes that non-competition clauses are valid while competition law's point of departure is that non-competition clauses are prohibited and invalid. The general starting point should be that if a non-competition clause falls outside the rules of competition law and thus is valid according to competition law, it is also legally valid contractually. The general prohibition on restrictive agreements in Section 6 of the Contracts Act can be said to express society's fundamental values in competition matters. The provision may also be considered an important part of the central legislation. The approach and the values expressed by the provision in competition law could also partly be reflected in a strict contractual legal assessment. From the public point of view, it could be appropriate to establish another company. That could bring benefits to the public through its service and prices. The market could sustain, and perhaps even thrive on, increased competition. This assessment, however, has so far not been applied in practice. The future will tell whether the competition law norms will be allowed to be integrated into the contractual assessment. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Andersson, Richard LU
supervisor
organization
alternative title
Competition clauses in company transfers - from a contract law and competition law viewpoint
course
JUR092 20151
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
avtalsrätt, konkurrensrätt
language
Swedish
id
5372264
date added to LUP
2015-05-19 10:33:54
date last changed
2015-05-19 10:33:54
@misc{5372264,
  abstract     = {A non-competition clause is an undertaking in competition prevention and is frequently used in a company transfers. In the case of company acquisitions that include goodwill and/or expertise, a need arises for the buyer to seek protection that the vendor, with its lead, does not start up a new, competing business after the acquisition. The current competitive situation may be a prerequisite for the buyer having any interest in completing the deal. The vendor undertakes to, within certain limits, not to engage in business that is in competition with the purchaser. Competition clauses may differ in how comprehensive they are in their content, term and geographic scope. 

All non-competition clauses can be considered from a contractual point of view. Most of them, however, must also be considered from a competition law aspect, because they can have a negative impact on free competition. 

As regards the relationship between EU competition regulations and the Swedish competition regulations, the EU Court's competition regulations were used as a model for the Swedish legislation, and that is also reflected in their application. There is almost complete agreement between the Commission's and the Competition Authority's practice. For this reason, it is easy to equate Swedish and European legal practice, with the reservation that the Swedish application in a certain respect has been adapted to Swedish conditions, and that the circumstances of the individual case are unique, so that assessments are therefore based accordingly. 

As far as the contractual aspect is concerned, there is a specific provision for non-competition clauses in Section 38 of the Contracts Act. The premise is that they are valid unless they are unreasonable. An assessment of fairness strikes a balance between the parties' opposing individual interests. Practice in this area is extremely sparse, with the result that the distinction between a contractually valid non-competition clause and an invalid one is difficult to determine. The practice that is available shows that a strict contractual assessment is applied, in which the principle of pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept] has been dominant. A binding period of five years has been approved even though it concerned protection of the goodwill. As goodwill is generally regarded as less worthy of protection than the protection of expertise it follows that even longer periods should probably be accepted for competition clauses that cover protection of expertise. There is no precedence for geographical scope, which may partly be due to the fact that geographical areas have not been specified in the majority of non-competition clauses. If protection concerns goodwill, the geographical area should not extend beyond the actual need for the purchase. If protection concerns expertise which can generally be utilized over a large geographical area, it seems reasonable that a large geographical area should be allowed. It seems not unlikely that an almost unlimited range would be acceptable. 
The basis of the competition law regulation is that non-competition clauses are invalid. To be covered by the general prohibition on restrictive agreements in Art. 81.1 RF or Section 6 of the Competition Act, it must be a question of a contract that has the purpose or effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition. If EU law is to be applicable, it presupposes that it may affect trade between Member States. For prohibitions to apply there is also a requirement that the non-competition clause is appreciable. The degree of this has been divided into quantitatively and qualitatively appreciable. The requirement to being appreciable enables bans not to apply to a non-competition clause. 

If the parties to the non-competition clause occupy a weak position in the market and have only a slight impact on it, the quantitative requirement is not met. The assessment thresholds have been set in a Commission notice. If the parties' combined market share exceeds the thresholds, the demand for quantitatively appreciable is met. It follows from this that non-competition clauses between many small and medium enterprises generally do not meet the requirement of quantitatively appreciable. 

In addition to a requirement for being quantitatively appreciable, the competition clause must also be qualitatively appreciable. The non-competition clause must not restrict competition appreciably in qualitative terms. The qualitatively appreciable assessment can be likened to a reasonableness argument. The category refers to restrictions of competition that are objectively necessary for the implementation of an agreement which is assessed in the light of whether the clause's substantive scope, geographic scope and duration are necessary to guarantee the value of the transferred assets.

In a qualitative assessment, a non-competition clause can be justified with the argument that without the competition clause, no business transfer would have taken place. In addition to the significance of the non-competition clause in this regard, the structure of the market is also important. If the market is fragmented, the non-competition clause can evade the ban. If the non-competition clause is of this nature, it may mean that the qualitatively appreciable requirement is not met. It thereby evades the ban on non-competition clauses. 

If the parties to the company transfer exceed given thresholds, the rules concerning control of company mergers will apply. If the merger is approved, the non-competition clause can be accepted if it is considered to be an ancillary restraint. This clause shall then be assessed in connection with the merger and thus avoid the prohibitions in Art. 81.1 RF and Section 6 of the Competition Act. Whether the non-competition clause is regarded as ancillary largely depends on its material scope, geographic scope and duration.

With regard to the length of a non-competition clause, it has been seen in practice that a longer period is acceptable for mergers that include both goodwill and expertise, compared to mergers that only involve goodwill. If there is only a question of the transfer of goodwill, a term not exceeding two years is normally accepted. If the acquisition includes both expertise and goodwill a period of three years is usually acceptable.

With regard to the geographical scope, if a non-competition clause is to be accepted as ancillary, it must normally be limited to the area where the acquired company was marketing its goods or services at the time of the merger.

Regarding the relationship between contract law and competition law, the basis is opposite between the two legal areas, namely that contract law assumes that non-competition clauses are valid while competition law's point of departure is that non-competition clauses are prohibited and invalid. The general starting point should be that if a non-competition clause falls outside the rules of competition law and thus is valid according to competition law, it is also legally valid contractually. The general prohibition on restrictive agreements in Section 6 of the Contracts Act can be said to express society's fundamental values in competition matters. The provision may also be considered an important part of the central legislation. The approach and the values expressed by the provision in competition law could also partly be reflected in a strict contractual legal assessment. From the public point of view, it could be appropriate to establish another company. That could bring benefits to the public through its service and prices. The market could sustain, and perhaps even thrive on, increased competition. This assessment, however, has so far not been applied in practice. The future will tell whether the competition law norms will be allowed to be integrated into the contractual assessment.},
  author       = {Andersson, Richard},
  keyword      = {avtalsrätt,konkurrensrätt},
  language     = {swe},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Konkurrensklausuler vid företagsöverlåtelse - ur en avtalsrättslig och konkurrensrättslig synvinkel},
  year         = {2015},
}