EU Probes `Hello Kitty' and `Despicable Me' Sales Curbs

  • EU opens probes into Sanrio and Universal Studios merchandise
  • Nike also targeted over sales and licensing practices

Hello Kitty’s brand owner Sanrio Co., Universal Studios and Nike Inc. face European Union antitrust investigations over curbs that may unfairly prevent merchandise from being sold online or across the EU.

The European Commission said it will examine whether some of the three companies’ licensing and distribution practices illegally restrict traders from selling licensed merchandise outside one country or online.

The trio "may be denying consumers access to wider choice and better deals in the single market," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an emailed statement.

Nike, Sanrio and Comcast Corp.’s Universal "license the rights for some of the world’s most well-known brands," the EU said, including Nike’s license for Barcelona soccer club as well as Universal Studio’s ownership of the rights for movie merchandise for "Despicable Me," "Minions" and "Harry Potter."

The cases follow an investigation into Guess? Inc.’s sales tactics opened last week and probes of electronics manufacturers, holiday booking firms and video-games producers opened in February. All come from a sweeping inquiry into online sales finalized last month on how internet commerce might be hampered across Europe.

Nike said in an email statement it’s "aware of the European Commission’s investigation and will continue to cooperate with the authorities.”

Calls made to Sanrio’s Tokyo headquarters outside business hours went unanswered on Wednesday evening. A Comcast regulatory spokesman in Washington didn’t respond to text and emailed requests for comment outside of normal business hours. Universal Studios also didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

The digital economy is a focus for Vestager, who is investigating Alphabet Inc.’s Google over an online shopping search tool, phone software and advertising. She’s also examining restrictions on pay-TV subscriptions.

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