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Restraint of trade means any activity which tends to limit trade, sales and transportation in interstate commerce or has a substantial impact on interstate commerce. Antitrust law prohibits most of these types of practices. The main antitrust law is the Sherman Act. To prevent trusts from creating restraints on trade or commerce and reducing competition, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. The Sherman Act aims to eliminate restraints on trade and competition. States also have laws against restraints of trade that have strictly local impact.
There are also restraint of trade contracts, which are contracts that state, for example, that a person selling a business agrees not to open a similar business within 50 miles of the business being sold and for a period of ten years. These contracts are not necessarily illegal, although some states outlaw restraints on competitive business activity. It is generally against public policy to prevent someone from engaging in an occupation. The issue often arises in non-compete agreements between an employer and former employee, tying agreements requiring purchasers to buy additional products from suppliers, and other actions that restrict competition. A recent case involved a federal investigation of the computer software giant Microsoft Corporation. Competitors complained that Microsoft used illegal arrangements with buyers to ensure that its disk operating system would be installed in nearly 80 percent of the world's computers.
The Sherman Antitrust Act (1890)
Section 1. Trusts, etc., in restraint of trade illegal; penalty
Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $10,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $350,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding three years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
Section 2. Monopolizing trade a felony; penalty
Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $10,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $350,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding three years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
Section 3. Trusts in Territories or District of Columbia illegal; combination a felony
Every contract, combination in form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce in any Territory of the United States or of the District of Columbia, or in restraint of trade or commerce between any such Territory and another, or between any such Territory or Territories and any State or States or the District of Columbia, or with foreign nations, or between the District of Columbia and any State or States or foreign nations, is declared illegal. Every person who shall make any such contract or engage in any such combination or conspiracy, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $10,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $350,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding three years, or both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
Section 4. Jurisdiction of courts; duty of United States attorneys; procedure
The several district courts of the United States are invested with jurisdiction to prevent and restrain violations of sections 1 to 7 of this title; and it shall be the duty of the several United States attorneys, in their respective districts, under the direction of the Attorney General, to institute proceedings in equity to prevent and restrain such violations. Such proceedings may be by way of petition setting forth the case and praying that such violation shall be enjoined or otherwise prohibited. When the parties complained of shall have been duly notified of such petition the court shall proceed, as soon as may be, to the hearing and determination of the case; and pending such petition and before final decree, the court may at any time make such temporary restraining order or prohibition as shall be deemed just in the premises.
Section 5. Bringing in additional parties
Whenever it shall appear to the court before which any proceeding under section 4 of this title may be pending, that the ends of justice require that other parties should be brought before the court, the court may cause them to be summoned, whether they reside in the district in which the court is held or not; and subpoenas to that end may be served in any district by the marshal thereof.
Section 6. Forfeiture of property in transit
Any property owned under any contract or by any combination, or pursuant to any conspiracy (and being the subject thereof) mentioned in section 1 of this title, and being in the course of transportation from one State to another, or to a foreign country, shall be forfeited to the United States, and may be seized and condemned by like proceedings as those provided by law for the forfeiture, seizure, and condemnation of property imported into the United States contrary to law.
Section 6a. Conduct involving trade or commerce with foreign nations
Sections 1 to 7 of this title shall not apply to conduct involving trade or commerce (other than import trade or import commerce) with foreign nations unless -
If sections 1 to 7 of this title apply to such conduct only because of the operation of paragraph (1)(B), then sections 1 to 7 of this title shall apply to such conduct only for injury to export business in the United States.
Section 7. ''Person'' or ''persons'' defined
The word ''person'', or ''persons'', wherever used in sections 1 to 7 of this title shall be deemed to include corporations and associations existing under or authorized by the laws of either the United States, the laws of any of the Territories, the laws of any State, or the laws of any foreign country.