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Amazon’s $1.7B iRobot acquisition greenlighted by UK antitrust regulator

Amazon’s .7B iRobot acquisition greenlighted by UK antitrust regulator

The U.K.’s antitrust regulator has given the go-ahead to Amazon’s proposed billion-dollar acquisition of iRobot, concluding that the deal “would not lead to competition concerns in the U.K.”

Amazon first revealed plans to buy robot vacuum maker iRobot for $1.7 billion last August, though the megabucks deal was always likely to draw scrutiny from regulators. The European Commission (EC) will decide by July 6 whether to clear the deal (with or without remedies) or launch a full-scale investigation, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. is also currently mulling an official investigation into the deal. The FTC did recently greenlight Amazon’s $3.9 billion One Medical acquisition, though it is reportedly pushing to stop Microsoft’s planned $68.7 billion Activision acquisition.

In short, it’s difficult to know whether Amazon’s iRobot purchase will survive regulators elsewhere, but today’s news from the U.K. — which recently blocked the Microsoft / Activision deal (subject to appeal) — could be a harbinger of what’s to come elsewhere, given that regulators often co-operate and share notes in such scenarios. But, of course, nothing is certain here.

“The merging parties will no doubt take comfort from the CMA clearance although they will also know that the different regulatory agencies do not always operate in complete lock-step with one another,” Alex Haffner, competition partner at U.K.-based law firm Fladgate said in a statement issued to TechCrunch.

Modest market share

Founded out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) some three decades ago, iRobot is best known for its Roomba-branded autonomous vacuum cleaners, though it has expanded into related products including those capable of mopping floors. For Amazon, which has been seeking deeper inroads into the smart home in addition to its own dabblings in home robotics, it wasn’t a major surprise that iRobot would fall on its radar.

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) first revealed it was scrutinizing the deal back in April, but it has now found that Amazon buying iRobot would not harm competition in the U.K. This, in large part according to the CMA, is because iRobot’s U.K. market position is “modest” and it already has several rivals. But on top of that, concerns that Amazon might use its omnipresent online marketplace to “disadvantage” iRobot rivals by demoting their presence were unfounded, as Amazon would “lack the incentive to do so” as the U.K. robot vacuum cleaner market is small.

If nothing else, the U.K.’s decision today may go some way toward addressing criticism levelled at the CMA in recent months over the way it’s blocking merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, particularly involving U.S. companies.

“The clearance decision is a useful riposte to allegations, which have taken on particular prominence recently in the light of Microsoft/Activision acquisition, that the CMA is anti-tech or unduly stifling economic growth in the sector,” Haffner said.. “In reality though, the ‘fundamentals’ of this deal means that the CMA’s assessment was far less controversial than in other tech-based cases given in particular iRobot’s low market-share.”

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