The antitrust storm surrounding Adobe's Figma deal

Adobe, the powerhouse behind creative software like Photoshop and Illustrator, announced last September that it's looking to acquire Figma, a design platform.

The antitrust storm surrounding Adobe's Figma deal
Adobe logo is seen on smartphone in this illustration taken June 13, 2022. Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: Adobe, the powerhouse behind creative software like Photoshop and Illustrator, announced last September that it's looking to acquire Figma, a design platform. This deal is worth about US$20 billion and is the largest purchase ever for Adobe.

So, what's Figma all about? Figma is a platform where people can collaborate on designs and brainstorm online. It's been gaining traction, especially among big players like Zoom, Airbnb and Coinbase. They're using it to create app and website interfaces.

But this deal isn't sealed just yet. Adobe still needs the green light from regulators in the US, UK and EU. This actually isn't the first time Adobe tried to buy Figma. Adobe has been trying since 2020, but Figma held out until last year and finally agreed to a deal that valued the company twice as much as its June 2021 valuation.

More recently: In February, EU regulators flagged concerns over Adobe's acquisition of Figma, even though the deal did not initially meet the turnover threshold for a review. Basically, it means Adobe needs the thumbs-up from regulators to make sure the deal won't harm fair competition in the market. EU regulators also said a bunch of countries, like Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and others, asked the EU enforcer to take a closer look into the deal.

But the scrutiny doesn't end there. The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set a deadline of June 30 to make a decision on the Adobe-Figma deal. And reportedly the US Justice Department might file an antitrust lawsuit to stop the acquisition.

The development: Now, the European antitrust regulators are officially stepping into the ring. They're reportedly set to launch a full-blown investigation into Adobe's buyout of Figma. According to the Financial Times, the EU authorities have some concerns about potential issues with fair competition. Insiders suggested that the regulators are gearing up to dig deep and conduct a thorough examination that could take months and even put the entire deal on the line.

Key comments:

"We look forward to continuing to engage with the DOJ (US Department of Justice), CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) and EC (European Commission) in productive discussions about the businesses, markets and positive economic impacts this deal will bring as they conduct their reviews," said Adobe last month.

"The transaction threatens to significantly affect competition in the market for interactive product design and whiteboarding software, which is likely at least EEA (European Economic Area)-wide, and, therefore, in the referring countries," said the European Commission.

“Adobe’s greatness has been rooted in our ability to create new categories and deliver cutting-edge technologies through organic innovation and inorganic acquisitions,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen last September. “The combination of Adobe and Figma is transformational and will accelerate our vision for collaborative creativity.”

“Adobe and Figma focus on very different product areas today. Figma is a leader in interactive product design, focused on building a collaborative web platform. Adobe is a leader in the creative tools space, helping millions of users create amazing visual content. Together, our vision will help enable millions of consumers to transform their productivity with creativity. We are engaged in constructive and cooperative discussions with regulators in the US, UK and EU, among others,” said an Adobe spokesperson to CNBC in an email in February.