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In an important case concerning the increasingly valuable online property portal sector, the Competition Appeal Tribunal has unanimously rejected all allegations of breach of competition law raised against Agents Mutual Ltd.

The combination of commercial and competition issues in the case meant that part of the proceedings were heard in the CAT with part in the Chancery Division. 

The competition issues in the case essentially arose out of contractual provisions governing the participation of the defendant (a firm of estate agents) in an online property portal “OntheMarket” (“OTM”) established by the claimant (a mutual limited company owned by its members, all of whom are estate agents).  In particular the competition issues related to the operation of the “One Other Portal Rule” whereby participants in OTM undertook to list their properties for sale/rent on a maximum of one other competing portal in addition to listing on OTM.  In practice, this meant that many members of OTM had to cease to list properties on one or other of Rightmove, the market leader, and Zoopla, the number 2 incumbent.

Gascoigne Halman raised a number of allegations of breach of the Chapter I prohibition, both by way of object and effect, and also alleged that Agents Mutual had participated in a collective boycott arrangement.

Following a hard fought trial, heard over 10 days, including cross examination of lay and expert economist witnesses, the CAT has unanimously, and comprehensively, rejected all of the allegations of breach of competition law. 

The CAT’s analysis and conclusions are set out in detail in its judgment, here.

Alan Maclean QC was leading Counsel for the successful party, Agents Mutual Ltd.

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