BRUSSELS - The European Commission said Wednesday it has launched an antitrust investigation into whether Hello Kitty owner Sanrio Co. is illegally blocking the sale of licensed products across borders and online.
In addition to Tokyo-based Sanrio, the commission has started probing sportswear giant Nike Inc. and Universal Studios movie company over similar allegations. They could face fines if their practices are in violation of antitrust laws.
“We are going to examine whether the licensing and distribution practices of these three companies may be denying consumers access to wider choice and better deals in the single market,” European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy, said in a statement.
The three companies license the rights for merchandising products such as clothes, shoes, phone accessories, bags and toys. The commission did not elaborate on which practices may have broken EU antitrust rules.
“(Sanrio) will cooperate with the European Commission’s investigation, and swiftly disclose any decisions on this matter,” the Japanese company said in a statement.
Created in 1974, Hello Kitty is one of Japan’s most well-known characters abroad.
Nike licenses the rights for Futbol Club Barcelona’s merchandise and Universal Studios owns the rights for the “Minions” and “Despicable Me” franchises.
The commission’s move follows an inquiry into nearly 1,900 companies doing business online. The inquiry found that some companies are placing pricing and territorial restrictions on the sale of their products that could violate EU rules.
In February, the commission opened investigations into the online sales practices of consumer electronics makers including Pioneer Corp. and video game publishers such as Capcom Co., as well as a hotel chain.