The Competitions and Marketing Authority (CMA) has said the blocking an industry acquisition is on the table after a panel found that the proposed merger between two assistive tech providers raised ‘substantial’ competition concerns.
Tobii and Smartbox both design and supply technology that enables people with complex speech and language needs to communicate. This could include a computerised device with an additional access method such as a joystick or eye gaze camera.
The CMA threatened an investigation earlier this year when the pair announced a merger. The authority proceeded to launch a Phase 2 inquiry in February after initial concerns led to the merger being referred to a group of independent panel members at the CMA for an in-depth investigation.
In its provisional findings, the group has found that the merger could lead to a “substantial lessening of competition in the supply of certain AAC solutions, where the businesses are the two leading suppliers and compete closely”.
Kip Meek, chair of the independent inquiry group carrying out the investigation, said: “This is vital equipment, used by many people who have difficulty communicating because of a disability or illness. It is typically bought on behalf of the those that need it by the NHS, charities and schools, so it’s important to ensure that pricing remains competitive.
“We are concerned that the merged company would face little competition, which could lead to higher prices, reductions in the range of products available for users and less product development.
The CMA has set out potential options for addressing its provisional concerns, which include blocking the deal by requiring Tobii to sell the Smartbox business.
Views are invited on the provisional findings by 20 June 2019 and the notice of possible remedies by 13 June 2019. The CMA’s final report will be issued by 25 July 2019.
Fredrik Ruben, president of Tobii, said when the Phase 2 inquiry was launched: “Tobii Dynavox’s ambition is to increase its innovation and empower more people to communicate and to realise their dreams and potential, regardless of disabilities or impairments.
“We are convinced that this merger is a positive thing for the many in need for assistive technology for communication.”