updated 9/22/2009 3:55:27 PM ET 2009-09-22T19:55:27

The federal government's antitrust enforcers said Tuesday they will update the 17-year-old guidelines used to determine whether a proposed corporate acquisition threatens competition.

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, which share antitrust enforcement powers, said they will hold a series of five workshops in December and January to discuss potential changes to the guidelines. The two agencies also will take public comments for several months. The guidelines have been in place since 1992.

Jon Liebowitz, chairman of the FTC, said the goal of the overhaul is to "demystify the process and provide more accurate guidance than practitioners and the courts have been getting."

Bert Foer, president of the nonprofit American Antitrust Institute, which supports stricter enforcement of antitrust law, said the guidelines currently put too much emphasis on whether a combination in a particular industry will cause prices to increase. More attention should be paid to preventing too much consolidation within a sector, which he said can hinder innovation even if prices remain low.

Changing the guidelines in such a way "could mean that a higher percentage of ... mergers actually get investigated," Foer said.

Still, it's unlikely the review will lead to "revolutionary" changes, he added.

Christine Varney, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said earlier this year that the department would take a more aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust law, which she contrasted with the Bush administrations' lax approach.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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