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Six years of legal wrangling over VISA and MasterCard U.S. exclusionary rules came to an end this week as the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, rejected appeals from both card networks. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice, at the urging of American Express, filed an antitrust lawsuit, challenging VISA’s “bylaw 210(e)” and MasterCard’s “Competitive Programs Policy.” (VISA’s bylaw and MasterCard’s policy prohibited their members in the USA from issuing Discover and American Express cards if they also issued a VISA and/or MasterCard.) The lawsuit came two years after American Express invited U.S. banks to join its network by issuing consumer and corporate cards. In October 2001, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that the card associations violated antitrust laws by prohibiting their members from issuing competitive cards. In January of this year, all 12 members of the Second U.S. Circuit of Appeals rejected VISA’s and MasterCard’s request for a review of the October 2001 decision. After this week’s U.S. Supreme Court development, MBNA announced it was going forward with its plans to issue American Express, while also offering VISA and MasterCards. To-date, MBNA is the only U.S. issuer to partner with AmEx. A similar American Express partnership in Canada with CIBC will come to an end on October 31st. CIBC says the American Express “Entourage” co-branded venture failed to meet financial expectations. In the USA, American Express offers the least number of merchant acceptance locations compared to the other three networks, affecting its broad consumer appeal in the prime market.

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