Philips Gets Antitrust Immunity as EU Probes CD, DVD Drives

Royal Philips Electronics NV said it was granted immunity from fines after the European Union sent makers of CD and DVD drives formal antitrust complaints claiming they colluded globally to fix prices.

Philips won’t be punished by the European Commission on the condition it continues to cooperate with the investigation, according to an e-mailed statement from Joost Akkermans, a spokesman for the Amsterdam-based company.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage Inc. and Philips said they were among 13 companies sent statements of objections by the European Commission today. The EU’s Brussels-based antitrust authority said it accused the companies of colluding to rig bids for at least five years on optical-disk drives sold to manufacturers of personal computers and servers. The EU didn’t identify the suppliers or the customers.

“The commission has concerns that those suppliers may have coordinated their behavior in bidding events organized by two major” manufacturers, the EU said in a statement. “This behavior, if established, may have ultimately affected customers that bought optical-disk drives manufactured by the companies concerned.”

Hitachi-LG, a joint venture of Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. and Seoul-based LG Electronics Inc., received an EU complaint, according to an e-mailed statement from Hitachi. The company didn’t elaborate.

U.S. Investigation

Hitachi-LG agreed last year to plead guilty and pay a $21.1 million fine after a U.S. antitrust investigation into collusion and price-fixing for optical drives to be sold to Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp. In addition, Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. have said the U.S. Justice Department sought information from them about the drives.

Optical disk drives include CD-ROM, CD-RW, DVD-ROM and DVD-RW. They use laser light or electromagnetic waves to read data.

Sony, Hitachi, Samsung Electronics Co., LG and Toshiba are being sued for compensation by purchasers in a U.S. lawsuit. A judge ruled in 2010 that the case could proceed while the U.S. government pursues its criminal probe. Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Corp. and Hitachi-LG, both joint ventures, and Philips Lite-On Digital Solutions Corp. were also named in the court filings.

Sony’s European unit didn’t receive a complaint, Sylvia Shin, a spokeswoman for Sony Europe, said in a phone interview.

Beth Robins, a spokeswoman in LG’s U.K. press office, and Sara Tidy, a spokeswoman for Samsung’s European operations, declined to immediately comment. Toshiba didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The EU can fine companies as much as 10 percent of yearly sales for operating a cartel to fix prices. Companies can defend themselves in writing or seek an oral hearing before the commission makes any decision on fines.

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