Research fields

The research focus of the Chair includes competition and regulatory law. These related areas have, by their nature, very fast-moving fields of application. They must reflect highly dynamic markets and, where competition is possible, guard against distortions of competition to the detriment of consumers. Regulatory law in particular has the difficult task of countering market failure in markets such as energy, telecommunications or railroads, in order to mitigate monopoly effects for the protection of consumers. In addition, intellectual property rights create objectively and temporally limited exclusive positions in order to provide incentives for dynamic innovation competition and social development, and are thus intrinsically linked to competition law.

Competition law (antitrust law)

Antitrust law is by nature a very fast-moving subject. It must try to reflect the highly dynamic markets and prevent distortions of competition. To do this, it must be able to capture the constantly changing, innovative market strategies of companies and their effects on competition.

A particular challenge at present lies in coping with the digitalization of economic activity. Companies are making increasingly use of computerized Technology not only for internal processes, but also for direct market entry. With the 9th GWB amendment, the German legislator has created the first special rules for highly digitalized markets and new types of risks posed by the Big Data society (Section 18 (3a) GWB: on this, Wolf, in: Münchener Kommentar zum Wettbewerbsrecht, Vol. 2 GWB, 3rd ed. 2020, Section 18 marginal no. 44 et seq. ). The increasing use of algorithms, for example, must be dealt with. The use of AI Technology does not in itself raise competition concerns, nor does the use of user data, even if the simultaneous use by several companies leads to an increase in the price level. However, the type and manner of use, such as locking the consumer out of the process of supply and demand via the speed of reaction associated with computer-assisted evaluation, can exceed the limit of what is permissible under antitrust law (on this, Wolf, NZKart 2019, 283 et seq. ). It must also always be questioned to what extent a supplement to antitrust law or, by way of catch-all, to fair trading law is necessary in order to be able to cope with the communication behavior towards consumers based on digital algorithms as well as the competitive dangers of digital platform markets with network effects (cf . Wolf, WRP 2019, 283 et seq. Against this background, the legislator introduced a new type of risk in Section 19a GWB with the 10th GWB amendment (Section 19a GWB draft bill; see Wolf's commentary on this in Vol. 2 of the forthcoming 4th edition of the Münchener Kommentar zum Wettbewerbsrecht).

Intellectual property law and industrial property rights

Intellectual property law can be developed from two perspectives: 1) from the perspective of the rights holder or 2) from the perspective of the general public (e.g. consumers, competitors). While the first variant tends to expansively emphasize the protection of the monopoly interests of the rights holder, the second variant, at the interface with general antitrust law, emphasizes in particular the dangers to competition inherent in a monopolization of knowledge. The outer limits of intellectual property are thus drawn in the case of their indispensability, among other things, by access obligations under antitrust law (on this Wolf, in: Münchener Kommentar zum Wettbewerbsrecht, vol. 1 Europ. WbR, 2nd ed. 2015, Einl. Rn. 1393 et seq. ). However, in individual cases, cooperations to avoid conflicts of property rights can also manifest themselves in restrictions of competition (on trademark delimitation agreements Wolf, NZKart 2015, 90 ff. ).

In the digital context, the social significance of intellectual property law is now changing. Already due to the shift of communication into the digital domain, the number of documented potential conflict cases is increasing. Their technical prerequisites, in particular the accompanying data transmission and intermediate storage, also run the risk of violating certain property right boundaries in the analog age even if it merely replaces earlier (permissible) analog communication channels. Modern intellectual property law must therefore abandon its defensive position vis-à-vis an external drawing of boundaries, as by antitrust law, and must be proactively placed on a dogmatic basis that can take into account the modern social, economic and cultural functions of the potential objects of protection on its own.

Energy and regulatory law

Regulatory law in the narrower sense is that part of the legal system that is aimed at directly influencing the economic behavior of market players in sectors in which the general framework provisions, such as antitrust law, and individual measures based on them are not sufficient to ensure the conditions for functioning competition in the long term (cf. § 10 (2) sentence 2 TKG). These conditions may arise in particular in sectors that are dependent on network infrastructures with the character of a natural monopoly, as in the energy sector. In the future, it will be increasingly necessary to consider the extent to which digital platform services with significant network effects should also be subject to special regulatory supervision.

Regulatory law for the energy industry has now reached an extremely high level of complexity, which makes scientific penetration as regulatory law based on general principles difficult. Legislators have encouraged this development in the past by constantly increasing the number of relevant legal regulations. Nevertheless, there is still a need to work on basic concepts such as that of the network, which is a decisive element of regulation, but the shaping of which has been largely left to the courts by the legislature (on this, Wolf, EnWZ 2018, 387 et seq.; ders., in: Baur/Salje/Schmidt-Preuß, Regulierung in der Energiewirtschaft, 2nd ed. 2016, ch. 68, p. 761 et seq. ).

Research subjects

Currently, the chair focuses on the following research topics, among others.

Markets and market participant roles in the digital transformation

The digitalization of business is changing the framework conditions of the markets and opening up new types of opportunities and role functions for market participants. Artificial intelligence enables companies to implement algorithmically controlled high-speed strategies. Whereas in classic price competition the phase of advance and pursuit were noticeable to the consumer as selection-relevant offer differences, the non-algorithmically represented consumer is increasingly locked out of this negotiation process. Such algorithmically driven interaction processes can no longer be evaluated on the basis of conventional notions of competition, which were tailored to inhert human behavior tied to biological effort limits (on this, Wolf, Auf dem Weg zu einem algorithmisierten Wettbewerbsbegriff?, in Zimmer (ed.), Regulierung für Algorithmen und Künstliche Intelligenz, 2021, pp. 339ff.). For the same reason, it needs to be clarified to what extent consumers can be put on an equal technological footing and thereby continue to exercise their function as arbiters in competition. On the other hand, the digitized platform economy opens up a completely new field of activity for consumers that goes beyond their passive demand role. In a modern collaborative economy, they can perform an active service function themselves, together with other consumers or in cooperation with producers (collaborative consumption, coproduction, prosuming, sharing). This shift in roles requires a readjustment of the traditional contrasting concepts of company and consumer.

Competition law in ecological and social change

Competition law requires further development insofar as it, as part of an overall legal system, increasingly has to deal with the social and ecological significance of corporate market behavior. As a result of the digitalization of everyday life, the public spaces in which discourses on social values are conducted are being shifted to platforms dominated by companies with market power. In this respect, the containment of economic power through competition law also fulfills a function of safeguarding democracy. Nor can competition law ignore the need of society as a whole for ecological sustainability(cf. also Section 2 (1) (2) of the Austrian Cartel Act). Ecological impacts are to a large extent also a consequence of market activity and market participants are able to change their behavior before the legislator intervenes by regulatory means. Thus, to what extent can companies be prevented from torpedoing ecologically sustainable technologies through mergers or abusive practices, while on the other hand competition law does not unnecessarily slow down individual or collective sustainability efforts?

Discussion Papers