The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced that they have referred Tobii’s acquisition of Smartbox for an in-depth investigation after they discovered a number of concerns.
Tobii and Smartbox both design and supply technology to enable people with complex speech and language needs to communicate. Their line of products includes specialised hardware and software, such as speech generating devices, eye gaze cameras and language systems.
The deal was expected to be for around £11 million. Justin Ellis, Competition Law specialist at City law firm iLaw, commented: “This goes to show how even relatively small acquisitions can be caught out by competition law when they are in a specialised or small market-place”.
As part of their initial phase 1 investigation into the deal, the CMA found that the deal between the two technology firms could lead to less choice, higher prices and reduced innovation for its customers.
In January this year, the CMA said that it would refer the merger for a full investigation unless the parties offered acceptable undertakings to address the CMA’s competition concerns.
Tobii offered undertakings intended to address the CMA’s concerns. However, after careful consideration, the CMA was not confident that these would resolve the concerns in a clear-cut manner.
The CMA has therefore now decided to refer the merger for an in-depth Phase 2 investigation.
Mike Walker, Chief Economic Advisor, said: “These are vital technologies bought on behalf of vulnerable people by the NHS, charities and schools.
“We believe that the merger could stifle innovation and lead to less choice. We will launch a further in-depth investigation if the companies fail to address our concerns.
A decision on the merger will be made by a group of independent panel members supported by a case team of CMA staff.