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FTC investigators recommend action against Intel

Limited scope to start with, but this one could grow big

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A year ago From The Register, a year ago The US Federal Trading Commission is likely to decide to bring antitrust charges against Intel next week, following a recommendation to this effect by FTC investigators. This recommendation will be placed before the five FTC commissioners, and although Intel is said to be lobbying intensively, it seems unlikely that they'll overrule their staff. The case to be brought initially will be relatively restricted, but broader and longer term FTC investigations continue, so Intel may well face more extensive action some months down the line. At the moment however the FTC is focussing tightly on the issue of Intel withholding technical information from three customers with whom it had legal disputes. This happened to Digital last year, and although that action was settled out of court, the FTC has continued to follow up on Digital's complaints. The Digital dispute was however followed up by one with Intergraph; so far this has gone against Intel, with Intergraph winning an injunction against the company in an Alabama court, and successfully beating-off Intel attempts to move the case to another state. Intergraph has also broadened its action into a full-blown antitrust complaint. Observers view the impending FTC action as quite different from the DoJ's against Microsoft, largely because of its restricted nature and the apparent absence of metaphysical 'what is an operating system' type issues. But the Microsoft case began narrowly, and is now moving into its second, 'war on all fronts,' phase. The Intel action will have similar potential to grow. Intel's defence of its action in withholding information has in the past been that it is unreasonable for the company to be expected to maintain normal business relations with companies accusing it of theft (Digital) or theft and blackmail (Intergraph). But as is the case with Microsoft, Intel's dominant position means that it is physically impossible for most hardware companies to survive without having a relationship with Intel. So even if it is in general it is unreasonable to have to do business with people who're suing you, legal minds will be drawn inexorably to the conclusion that Intel is a special case, because of its monopoly position. At which point the monopoly itself may become an issue, and the long string of accusations (at least as long as those against Microsoft) of monopolistic and anti-competitive conduct will come into play. Just as was the case with Microsoft. ®

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