OFAC imposes strong sanctions on Venezuela’s PDVSA

On Monday January 28, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed strong sanctions on Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), a major Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company. The U.S. is now prohibited from engaging in transactions with the company, and all property and interests in property of PdVSA that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. Members of our Sanctions Team describe the impacts of this action in our client alert.

OFAC lifts sanctions on three Russian entities

On January 27, 2019, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed UC Rusal plc (Rusal), En+ Group plc (En+), and JSC EuroSibEnergo (ESE) from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List, reducing the number of Russian entities sanctioned by the United States. Our Sanctions Team explores the implications in our recent client alert.

Prescription drug purchasing initiative in California raises legal questions

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order creating a program to lower prescription drug costs throughout the state. This initiative could significantly impact pharmaceutical manufacturers, managed care companies, pharmacies and other industry participants, as well as prescription drug consumers. Reed Smith’s health care and antitrust teams summarize Newsom’s Executive Order and address consequent legal and policy issues in this client alert.

FCA fines household appliance manufacturers €189 million for cartel activities

On December 5, 2018, the French Competition Authority (FCA) fined six large household appliance manufacturers a total of €189 million for agreeing on price increases charged to end-consumers and commercial terms applicable to their kitchen installers. This is the tenth highest fine imposed for cartel activities by the FCA since 2000. Members of our EU, Competition & Regulatory team summarize the case in our recent client alert.

FTC hearings address AI regulatory challenges

On November 13–14, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held hearings on “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century.” The panelists, an assembly of industry leaders, academics and enforcers, discussed consumer protection and antitrust issues that arise from harvesting data through AI, the role of industry in mitigating potential harms and whether government agencies can effectively prevent AI misuse within existing legal frameworks. Our client alert describes what measures companies and agencies can take to protect consumers and competition in this next frontier of antitrust enforcement. Visit reedsmith.com to learn more.

FTC eyes contact lens trademark settlement agreements

Over a spirited dissent, and in a 3–1 decision issued on November 14, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioners held that 1-800 Contacts violated Section 5 of the FTC Action by entering into settlement agreements with competitors that (1) harmed consumers in the online sale of contact lenses and (2) harmed search engines by artificially reducing the prices paid for online advertisements.

The settlement agreements at issue resolved allegations by 1-800 Contacts that its competitors were infringing upon its trademark by bidding on paid search advertising with 1-800 Contacts’ trademark as keywords. Search engines hold auctions for ads placed as results of certain search terms, and the settlement agreements prohibited competitors from bidding on keywords containing 1-800 Contacts’ trademark and also required competitors, when applicable, to employ 1-800 Contacts’ trademark as a “negative keyword” (which prevents competitors’ ads from populating the results of a keyword search for 1-800 Contacts’ trademark). From 2004 to 2013, 1-800 Contacts entered into 13 such agreements with competitors, and the FTC challenged this practice, reasoning that the agreements were inhibiting competition in a “very important” channel of advertising that “effectively eliminat[ed] an entire channel of competitive advertising at the key moment when the consumer is considering a purchase.”

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Recent SEC report on cybersecurity preparedness and response serves as warning of future enforcement

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently provided issuers with a reminder of the potential for enforcement for insufficient cybersecurity. The SEC continues to emphasize the importance of measures such as up-to-date compliance and incident response programs in order to maintain the integrity of the capital market system, and a recent Report of Investigation reflects that cybersecurity remains an enforcement priority. To learn more about the Report and the SEC’s recent enforcement actions, visit our Technology Law Dispatch blog.

United States fully reimposes secondary sanctions on Iran

On November 5, the United States reimposed the final tranche of sanctions on Iran, which had been lifted pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) in 2016. The vast majority of these sanctions are “secondary sanctions,” being those which target non-U.S. persons and companies even where there is no U.S. nexus (e.g. the use of USD; U.S.-persons; or U.S. goods). The secondary sanctions cover a variety of goods and services, as well as prohibitions on dealings with certain individual persons and entities. While exceptions for humanitarian goods, agricultural products, medicine and medical devices remain in place, entities may find doing even this kind of business in Iran more challenging due to restrictions on the Iranian banking industry. When taking decisions about whether to enter into or continue Iran-related trade, EU companies must also weigh the risk of circumventing the EU’s so-called “blocking” statute. To read our summary of the reimposed sanctions, visit reedsmith.com.

Legal Fees Spent Successfully Defending Qui Tam Whistleblower Claims May Be Recoverable Even Under Fixed-Price Contracts

As a lawyer who regularly defends qui tam suits brought against government contractors under the False Claims Act (FCA), a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in The Tolliver Grp. Inc. v. United States, Fed. Cl., No. 17-1763C (J. Lettow 10/26/18) prompted me to remind federal government contractors defending civil qui tam lawsuits under the FCA, that the majority of their legal fees spent successfully defending a relator’s whistleblower suit may be reimbursable by the government. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 31.205-47 provides that up to 80 percent of a contractor’s legal costs incurred in connection with successfully defending an FCA action may be allowable to the extent such costs are reasonable and not otherwise unallowable or recovered. See FAR 31.205-47(b), (e).1

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Iran Sanctions: new developments and how to handle them

On 8 May 2018, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In conjunction with that announcement, the President issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) directing the re-imposition of certain secondary sanctions, being those that apply to non-U.S. persons even where there is no U.S. nexus (e.g. no U.S. persons, no U.S.-origin goods, or U.S. dollar payments). As discussed in our earlier blog post, the first batch of sanctions was reimposed on 6 August and the second batch will become effective 5 November.

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