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The cartel is an important step in the history of global economy because of their alleged involvement in the creation of great-scale planned obsolescence. The cartel reduced competition in the light bulb industry for almost twenty years, and has been accused of preventing technological advances that would have produced longer-lasting light bulbs. The Phoebus cartel is also featured in fictionalized form as a minor plot element in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow. Phoebus was officially a Swiss corporation named "Phoebus S.A. Compagnie Industrielle pour le Développement de l'Éclairage".
Osram, Philips, Tungsram, Associated Electrical Industries, ELIN, Compagnie des Lampes, International General Electric, and the GE Overseas Group were members of the Phoebus cartel. They owned shares in the Swiss corporation proportional to their lamp sales.
In 1921 a precursor organisation was founded by Osram, the "Internationale Glühlampen Preisvereinigung". When Philips and other manufacturers were entering the American market, General Electric reacted by setting up the "International General Electric Company" in Paris. Both organisations were involved in trading patents and adjusting market penetration. Increasing international competition led to negotiations between all major companies to control and restrict their respective activities in order not to interfere in each other's spheres.
The cartel served as a convenient way to lower costs and worked to standardize the life expectancy of light bulbs at 1000 hours, while at the same time hiking prices without fear of competition. Members' bulbs were regularly tested and fines were levied for bulbs that lasted more than 1000 hours. A 1929 table lists exactly how many Swiss francs had to be paid, depending on the exceeding hours of lifetime. This was not public knowledge at the time, and the cartel could point to standardization of light bulbs as an alternative rationale for the organization.
The cartel claimed that 1000 hours was a reasonable optimum life expectancy for most bulbs, and that a longer lifetime could be obtained only at the expense of efficiency: more electricity is wasted as heat and less light is obtained. 
The Phoebus Cartel divided the world’s lamp markets into three categories:
- home territories, the home country of individual manufacturers
- British overseas territories, under control of Associated Electrical Industries, Osram, Philips, and Tungsram
- common territory, the rest of the world
In the late 1920s a Swedish-Danish-Norwegian union of companies (the North European Luma Co-op Society) began planning an independent manufacturing center. Economic and legal threats by Phoebus did not achieve the desired effect, and in 1931 the Scandinavians produced and sold lamps at a considerably lower price than Phoebus.
See also 
- Metze, Marcel "Anton Philips (1874-1951). They will know who they're dealing with", Uitgeverij Balans, Amsterdam, 2004, ISBN: 90 5018 612 2 (Summary).
- "Corporations: A Very Tough Baby". Time Magazine. 1945-07-23. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
- [ Das Glühbirnenkartell - tazblog] Extensive background information in the second half of the article, 06.02.2007.
- Hehkulampussa ja ledissä sama ongelma: lämpö, Suomen Kuvalehti 13.10.2011, an interview of research scientist, D.Sc. Eino Tetri, Leader of the Light Sources and Energy Group in Aalto University
Further reading 
- Wells, Wyatt C. (2002). Antitrust and the Formation of the Postwar World. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12398-1.
- Patrick Gaughen "Structural Inefficiency in the Early Twentieth Century: Studies in the Aluminum and Incandescent Lamp Markets" Social Science 610, December, 1998, 36 pp.
- U K Monopolies Commission "Report on the Supply of Electric Lamps", His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, October 1951, v + 199 pp.
- Prêt à jeter / Kaufen für die Müllhalde, ARTE TV documentary, France, 2010. [Commentary and excerpt from German translation]