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Intel seeks deal with FTC

Company attempting to head-off antitrust action

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A year ago From The Register No. 75 May 1998 Negotiations between Intel and the Federal Trading Commission may hand Intergraph a victory of sorts in its antitrust action against the company.

Aside from claiming Intel has infringed its patents, Intergraph is accusing the company of having materially damaged its business by withholding vital information, and of attempting to blackmail Intergraph into giving Intel access to key technology.

As was the case with last year's Digital lawsuit, Intel's attitude is that it can't be expected to maintain a normal business relationship with a company that's accusing it of patent infringement, blackmail and antitrust violation, but there's clearly a circular element to this.

If Intel blocks a company's access to support and information about key Intel technologies, then it's clearly damaging the company, which then has justification for accusing Intel of trying to drive it out of business. But Digital's initial accusations prompted an FTC investigation, and this now seems to be approaching a conclusion. According to the San Jose Mercury, the FTC will take the line that the withholding of information by a dominant supplier is a clear breach of current antitrust law, and will therefore take action on this soon, while continuing a broader investigation into Intel's overall business conduct.

Intel is therefore ready to make a deal that will stop the antitrust action, but it's not entirely clear what form such an arrangement would take. If Intel agreed simply to carry on supplying information to companies it had legal disputes with, then it would be less likely to be accused of blackmail and hardball tactics, but this is unlikely to be enough for the FTC, particularly as the differential flow of information is likely be bound up in the broader FTC investigation as well.

Offering information on demand to all comers, on the other hand, will be several steps further than Intel will want to go, so any final deal will probably emerge as part of a close-fought consent decree. Intergraph is already arguing that Intel's action caused real damage to its business, so seems likely to continue to pursue a settlement. The FTC meanwhile is also interested in the possibility that Intel may be using its dominant position in CPUs to compete unfairly in other areas. ®

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