European Commission antitrust regulators opened an investigation into Nike (NKE) , Universal Studios and Sanrio (SNROF)  Wednesday after accusing the three of imposing anticompetitive restrictions on distributors of their products. 

Restrictions that prevent distributors from operating across borders inside the European Union have seen the American and Japanese companies falling foul of rules designed to enforce the EU's so called single market, which treats all of the European Union as a borderless trading area. 

"The Commission is investigating whether Nike, Sanrio and Universal Studios are restricting cross border and online sales of merchandising products," said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission's head of competition policy.

The commission has opened three separate investigations, one for each company, which will assess whether the licensing and distribution practices employed by the trio breach EU rules.  

If an infringement is found to have occured then, on a worst case scenario basis, the European Commission could fine each company an amount equivalent to as much as 10% of its global turnover. 

It could also take a lighter touch by offering them a so called commitments arrangement, a form of corporate probation, where each undertakes to meet various conditions laid down by Brussels in return for avoiding a fine. 

Wednesday's action from Brussels comes just one week after regulators levelled the same charge at another American retailer, Guess? (GES) , before opening a formal investigation.

The European Commission says that the rules around the single market are designed so that consumers are able to shop around for a better deal and so companies should not segment the licensing of their products by national geography when trading inside the EU. 

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