FTC Accuses Laser Makers of Price-Fixing


Federal regulators voted unanimously to bring price-fixing charges against two makers of laser equipment to correct vision disorders, saying the scheme cost consumers $30 million a year in higher prices. The Federal Trade Commission voted 5 to 0 to bring the charges against Visx Inc. of Santa Clara and Summit Technology Inc. of Waltham, Mass., accusing them of improperly sharing fees charged to doctors who used equipment made by either company. Any doctor who purchased a surgical laser from either firm had to pay up to $250 each time the laser was used to reshape a cornea, a process known as photo refractive keratectomy, or PRK. Neither company commented. They were ordered to appear before an FTC administrative law judge for a hearing April 16. The judge can do no more than order them to stop any illegal practices. The two firms allegedly set up a third company into which the fees were paid, then split the pot. The FTC, which made its charges before the markets closed, also alleged that Visx acted with "inequitable conduct and willful fraud" in obtaining the patent on its process. Shares of Visx fell $6.50 to close at $22.50 on Nasdaq; Summit shares lost 63 cents to $5.31, also on Nasdaq.

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