CMA threatens in-depth investigation after industry’s assistive tech merger

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The CMA has warned two assistive technology providers that it is prepared to launch an in-depth Phase 2 investigation into the pair if they fail to address concerns it has over a merger between the two companies.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) , which is responsible for preventing anti-competitive activities, is concerned that Tobii’s acquisition of Smartbox may lead to less choice, higher prices and reduced innovation for customers.

Tobii and Smartbox design and supply assistive technology solutions to enable people with complex speech and language needs to communicate.

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The solutions include specialised hardware and software, such as alarm systems, speech generating devices and hearing technologies, including the use of eye-tracking tech.

The CMA has found that Tobii and Smartbox are leading suppliers in the sector and are each other’s main competitor.

There are concerns that the merged company would face little competition, which could lead to a reduced range of products being offered, higher prices and fewer new products being developed.

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.”

Tobii has insisted that the joining of the two companies will mean an increased rate of innovation and a broader range of products to benefit users with disabilities.

It said that it will continue to work cooperatively with the CMA during the process and has confirmed that both the Tobii and Smarbox brands will be held separate pending completion of the review.

Fredrik Ruben, president of Tobii, said: “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.”

The CMA outlined in its annual plan last year that it will place a new focus on protecting some of the most vulnerable customers in society from unfair trading.

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Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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