Famous Antitrust Cases

This article discusses three major antitrust cases - AT&T, Kodak & Standard Oil - and the effects they had on US antitrust regulation.


The breakup of AT&T is a decision that has made impact on the everyday life of Americans. Challenged as a monopoly through the years by potential entrants into the telecommunications industry, AT&T was granted a “natural monopoly” status by the U.S. Government for years.

In 1974, Attorney General Willam Saxbe filed suit against AT&T. Seven years and four Attorney Generals would pass before AT&T and the Department of Justice would enter into a stipulation settling the case between the two parties. AT&T would be split into seven companies, each of which would serve different regions of the United States. Today, of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (“Baby Bells) that were formed, three are left – five have merged to become AT&T Incorporated, and the latter three are now known as Verizon and Qwest.

The break-up of AT&T and the merger of the Baby Bells have opened up lingering questions and doubts about the effectiveness and practicality of past, present, and future antitrust enforcement.

In 1907, the Aluminum Company of America was founded. Formed on the foundation of a new industry, with protective patents in hand it soon found itself in a position of what it claimed to be was a “natural” monopoly. For years Alcoa was the one and only producer of aluminum in the United States. As part of its’ plan to keep that position, Alcoa began taking a series of steps that would allow it to remain dominant: First, it acquired exclusive rights to all of the bauxite mines in the United States. (Bauxite is the base material from which aluminum is refined). It then acquired land rights to build and own hydroelectric facilities in both the U.S. and Canada. By owning both the base materials and the only sites where refinement could take place all other entrants into aluminum market would be effectively barred. Alcoa would go on to create subsidiaries and other aluminum producing companies, such as Alcan, which would become the Canadian equivalent of Alcoa, and a major independent company.

Not unnoticed by the Federal Government, in 1937 the Department of Justice would file suit against Alcoa. The suit would drag on until in 1944 Judge Learned Hand would write that in his landmark opinion that Congress did not “condone good trusts and condemn bad ones, it forbad all”. Whether or not Alcoa had attained monopoly status through a lawfully granted patent or offered good public benefit was relevant; what was relevant was the fact that under the Sherman Act, Hand had found evidence that Alcoa had taken measures to restrict trade and enter into monopoly.

Though Alcoa was never technically divested and broken as Standard Oil was due to the emergence of competitors Reynolds and Kaiser following World War II, today Reynolds has been acquired by Alcoa. And Alcan, the subsidiary company founded by Alcoa, was the target of a failed takeover bid in 2007 by Alcoa.

The history of Alcoa and the current status of aluminum-producing companies today points out a key history lesson: under antitrust code, the Department of Justice can and will go after companies that lead to anticompetitive practices: intentional or not, for either good or ill.


At one point in history, Kodak has controlled as much as 96% of the film and camera market in the United States. Through the years, Kodak has seen and weathered several antitrust suits and claims brought by both private and federal parties. The two suits that would shape and reinforce antitrust law in the United States were brought on by the U.S. Government In 1921 and in 1954 and would result in two consent decrees. In accordance with the 1921 decree, Kodak agreed to not sell private-label film – it was disbarred from selling film under any other label but it’s own. In 1954, following the development of its’ Kodacolor film, Kodak’s became not only the only manufacturer and seller of Kodacolor, it was also the only company that knew how to process the film as well – and parlayed that into its’ business strategy. As part of the purchase cost of Kodacolor, Kodak included a fee that would allow the customer to send in the film for processing and delivery. Accused that the “tying” together of the film and the finished product constituted a violation of the Sherman Act, Kodak was forced to license the color finishing process to third parties.

In 1994, citing changing international economic conditions, both consent decrees were terminated.

Standard Oil

The case of Standard Oil v. U.S., is a major one in antitrust case law for two simple reasons. First, it broke up a massively profitable and innovative corporation into 34 separate, competing companies. Secondly, the application and upholding of the Sherman Act by the Supreme Court created the vital precedent for all future cases to be prosecuted under. The Standard Oil verdict may have acted as an impetus for the drafting and creation of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, which is seen by many as a vast improvement and refinement of U.S. antitrust law. (The Clayton Act is ten times larger than the Sherman Act in length!).

Today, ExxonMobil can trace its’ existence as a direct descendant of Standard Oil, having merged with multiple Standard Oil descendants to become one the largest and richest corporations in the world. In the 2007 fiscal year, ExxonMobil reported an income of 40 billion USD.

Ryan Blanch is the Founding Partner of The Blanch Law Firm, P.C. in New York City. Mr. Blanch is a seasoned white collar criminal defense attorney and commercial litigator, handling complex government investigations and business disputes.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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