The German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced on 24 May 2022 that it had no objections to the planned launch of the "Catena-X" cooperation. This project aims to create a data network for the European automotive industry with corresponding applications along the value chain.
The Catena-X project
Catena-X is not only intended to promote the development of uniform standards for data sharing, but also to facilitate the development of concrete applications based on the new data network. These include projects that enable, for example, traceability or determination of the carbon footprint of components along the value chain. Other areas of application concern the circular economy or the improvement of quality management.
Competition law standard of review
The assessment of this cooperation under competition law was carried out both with regard to the agreement to set standards and with regard to the cooperation for the purposes of research and development.
The central question was whether the research and development cooperation would appreciably reduce competition in innovation. The FCO answered in the negative because the standards to be developed are to be interoperable. In this respect, companies active in the automotive industry will still be able to use and develop their own cloud and software solutions.
Moreover, the following three principles were relevant: First, the exchange of competitively sensitive information must be limited to what is absolutely necessary for the cooperation. Secondly, the standards must be developed in an open process, transparently and without discrimination, i.e. third parties must be allowed to participate in the standard-setting process, compliance with the standard must be voluntary and access to the standard must be provided on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. Thirdly, the individual development cooperations planned within the project must not lead to market foreclosure or other distortions of competition, especially with regard to competition in innovation.
Until now, car manufacturers have relied on individual solutions from established cloud providers (e.g. Amazon, Google, Microsoft) to digitalise manufacturing processes. However, this creates self-contained, closed data platforms (so-called stand-alone solutions) with different data interfaces. By eliminating these different interfaces, Catena-X ensures the best possible utilisation of the data and that the respective automotive suppliers no longer have to adapt to the manufacturers' interfaces. Ultimately, this optimises digital processes along the value chain.
Catena-X is an important milestone of the "Gaia-X" initiative launched by the then Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in 2019. Gaia-X aims to create a European data infrastructure by developing interfaces and standards to connect different, cross-industry cloud services in order to reduce dependence on American and Chinese IT providers. With Catena-X, a data network is now being created that complies with the Gaia-X standards.
It is true that the approval of the Catena-X cooperation is an initial landmark decision by the FCO. At the same time, however, the FCO emphasised that this does not prejudice a final assessment of all Catena-X sub-projects. These projects first have to be defined in more detail. The authority will continue to keep an eye on the further development of the cooperation and in particular the continuation of individual sub-projects.
In addition to Catena-X, the "Gaia-X" initiative in 2022 has taken some significant steps forward and first projects are at the point of establishing associations to implement data spaces, data trustees and data sharing platforms. Therefore, Gaia-X Hub Germany, together with Fieldfisher, is organising a workshop on "Gaia-X Ecosystems: Legal Issues and Legal Design". In the course of this workshop, a panel discussion on "Governance structures of sovereign data spaces" will take place on 24 June 2022 from 11:15-12:30. At the end of the workshop, there will also be the opportunity to participate in the wrap-up session from 15:00-16:00. In this context, our partner Christian Bahr will also present the results on antitrust implications for data spaces.
If you are interested in the panel discussion and the wrap-up session, please register under the following link: Registration
Press release: Bundeskartellamt - First component for Gaia-X: Bundeskartellamt gives green light for establishing data network for automotive industry (Catena-X)
Press release: Fieldfisher - GAIA-X: Fieldfisher advises Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy on founding in context of European Cloud Project
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