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Federal Trade Commission

Last fall the editors of the Vermont Law Review were kind enough to invite me to participate in a discussion on food and product labeling, part of a day-long conference “The Disclosure Debates” with panels on environmental, financial, and campaign disclosure. Other panelists included Christine DeLorme of the Federal Trade Commission, Division of Advertising Practices; Brian Dunkiel, Dunkiel Saunders; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety; and David Zuckerman, Vermont State Senator and Farmer, Full Moon Farm.

Aside from my own segment above, you can find links to the other segments here. Plus: Environmental Health (VLS) summary of above panel.

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The Federal Trade Commission acting simultaneously as lawmaker, judge, prosecutor, appellate panel, bailiff, clerk of the court, and many other public servants probably up to and including executioner [Gary Lawson via Steven Hayward, Power Line]

And goodbye to an Atlanta-based lab services business [Ed Hudgins, Atlas Business Rights Center] Law-enforcement-for-profit sidelight: according to owner Michael Daugherty, allegations of data insecurity at LabMD emanated from a private firm that held a Homeland Security contract to roam the web sniffing out data privacy gaps at businesses, even as it simultaneously offered those same businesses high-priced services to plug the complained-of gaps.

“Do you really want a regulatory agency designing your iPad?” asks dissenting commissioner Joshua Wright. The Federal Trade Commission considers it an unfair consumer practice for Apple to leave a buying window open for fifteen minutes after password entrance during which further app purchases can be made without keying in the password again; occasionally children have approached an untended tablet and engaged in purchases without asking permission. [Gordon Crovitz, WSJ; Wright dissenting statement]

Is this patent asserter seriously overestimating the persuasive validity of its claims to own the process of scanning a document to email? Or is there a rash of inappropriate resistance by small businesses nationwide? “MPHJ has sent letters to approximately 16,465 small businesses nationwide. … it only received 17 (yes, 17!) licenses. Yet the price of these 17 licenses was thousands of small businesses going through the stress and expense of facing a threat of patent litigation.” MPHJ is said to believe that if a business has more than twenty employees and operates in various fields such as “professional services,” it very likely infringes on its patent and owes a royalty of $1,000-$1,200 per employee. [Julie Samuels, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica, more and related last year on patent asserters in the office scanning field]

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“… The FTC regulating it” [Jack Shafer, Reuters]

I was a guest Friday on Fox Business Network’s The Willis Report, with guest host Dennis Kneale, to discuss two antitrust cases in the news: Apple’s vigorous efforts to fight back against a monitor appointed as part of its e-books antitrust case [Roger Parloff/Fortune, Alison Frankel/Reuters], and the FTC’s enforcement action against music teachers for anti-competitive practices. You can watch here.

I’ll save the (highly significant) Apple-vs.-monitor case for another post. The Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement action against music teachers, skillfully told by Kim Strassel in the WSJ, demonstrates what officialdom is willing to do with the legal sledgehammer that it claims to need to take on giant corporations like Apple: it uses that weaponry against the mild-mannered piano teacher next door and her little trade association. In a sane world, when the association said its hortatory statement had never been enforced and it would delete it from now on, the FTC’s enforcers would declare victory and move on to some more important case. That they did not do so here speaks volumes about the zeal, careerism and lack of proportion that add up to runaway government. More: George Leef, Forbes.

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We’re previously noted the activities of ArrivalStar and related entities, which have filed numerous suits against enterprises over alleged infringement on vehicle-tracking technology. Now one of its frequent targets, public transit systems, is striking back: the “American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has teamed up with the Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) … [and] have sued to knock out the ArrivalStar patents.” [Joe Mullin, Ars Technica] Also: “F.T.C. Is Said to Plan Inquiry of Frivolous Patent Lawsuits” [New York Times]

May 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 2, 2013

January 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 6, 2013

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Blogging’s loss…

by Walter Olson on September 11, 2012

…is the FTC’s and the nation’s gain, as President Obama nominates Josh Wright of Truth on the Market and George Mason University to a Republican seat on the Federal Trade Commission. Among our many links to his work: Posner and expert witnesses, Spanish professor sued by recording industry, e-book antitrust case, forum-shopping in Philadelphia, Chicago on law and econ, Google antitrust, executive debarment, cheap calories, behavioral law and econ, unisex insurance rates, Dodd-Frank, and many, many others. More reactions: Stephen Bainbridge, Ted Frank (“Best thing Obama’s ever done”).

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Columnist Debra Saunders quotes me on the Federal Trade Commission’s extraction of $40 million from a shoe maker for hyping its sneakers in its ads. As Saunders points out, we rely on Washington, D.C. for help on issues like this since if there’s anything the political class is earnestly opposed to, it’s overpromising. [San Francisco Chronicle]

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In the face of substantial Congressional opposition (although an earlier Congress had helped push for the idea in the first place) the Federal Trade Commission may be easing off its zeal for tougher federal oversight of cereal ads and the like. [Glenn Lammi, Washington Legal Foundation]

Punishing Google’s success

by Walter Olson on December 21, 2011

Rivals are pushing for the Federal Trade Commission to take more aggressive antitrust action against the search company, and have now enlisted Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in their cause. [Geoffrey Manne, Jim Miller & Dan Oliver/NRO, Coyote]

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The official Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is menacing businesses with audits, “substantiation notices” and potentially stiff fines if they tell customers — even over the phone or in emails — that future price hikes on goods or services are the result of the nation’s newly adopted carbon tax. I discuss at Cato at Liberty (& Mark Hemingway, Weekly Standard).

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Settling a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, the maker of the drink agrees to warn on its label that it really has quite a lot of alcohol in it and can get you tipsy without having to go back often for refills. As Elie Mystal notes, the “warning” might fit rather nicely into the beverage’s marketing strategy. Scott Greenfield has thought of a parallel case.

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Food law roundup

by Walter Olson on September 13, 2011

  • Feds fund Boston campaign bashing sweetened drinks [Globe; see also on NYC] More on ObamaCare “Public Health Fund” subsidies to local paternalist initiatives on diet [WLF]
  • Thanks to federal funding priorities, New York education department had 40 experts on school lunches, only one on science education [Frederick Hess via Stoll]
  • Grocers hope to escape federal menu labeling mandate [FDA Law Blog] How regulations exasperate midsize restaurant operators [Philip Klein, Wash. Examiner]
  • “The Eight Dumbest Restaurant Laws” [Zagat]
  • Proposed federal standards on kid food ads extreme enough that many USDA “healthy” recipes would flunk [Diane Katz, Heritage] Do FTC’s guidelines violate the First Amendment? [WSJ]
  • Compared with what? “Egg farm regulations still skimpy” [Stoll] Deer blamed for E. coli in pick-your-own strawberries [USA Today]
  • U.K.: Your kids are too fat so we’re taking them away [Daily Mail; earlier here, here, etc.]

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“… Then Sues Them For Doing So.” If ObamaCare doesn’t get you, it seems, FTC antitrust enforcement might. [Peter Suderman, Reason]

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