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Class Suits Charge Battery Makers With Global Price-Fixing Conspiracy

Litigation is mounting against the world’s biggest manufacturers of rechargeable lithium ion batteries, who consumers accuse of complicity in an illegal price-fixing scheme.

At least 10 class actions have been filed in federal courts against the Japanese and Korean companies Panasonic, LG, Sony, Samsung, Sanyo and Hitachi and their American subsidiaries, which are all based in California and New Jersey.

The plaintiffs generally allege that since 2000, the defendants have collectively controlled 60 to 90 percent of the world-wide market for the batteries, which power cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, MP3 players and other portable electronic devices.

The global market for the batteries was about $14 billion in 2011 and is expected to exceed $16 billion this year, they say.

The plaintiffs, mainly consumers, say they paid more than they should have to buy the batteries from third-party vendors or for laptops and other devices that came with the batteries installed.

If they prevail, they could recover treble damages and legal fees, among other amounts.

In support of their claims, the plaintiffs point to a history of similar behavior.

They allege that the defendants, along with their parents and affiliates, orchestrated some of the largest price-fixing conspiracies of the past decade, in which the companies and some of their executives pleaded guilty to schemes involving random access memory chips, LCD screens and other consumer electronics components.

They assert the alleged battery price-fixing scheme has similar features: a highly concentrated market, controlled by Asian corporations; pricing pressure exerted by equipment manufacturers; rapid commoditization of new technology; and pricing behavior inconsistent with a competitive market.

The complaints trace the history of the batteries, first sold by Japanese companies such as Sony and Panasonic starting in 1991.


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