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Chipzilla squats on tariff towers

Is Intel's intent to win hearts, minds or just wallets?

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Column US body the International Trade Commission (ITC) will investigate whether wanna-be chip firm Via is breaching trade laws by importing its chipsets, following a complaint by Intel, it announced earlier this week. Well, Intel sure knows how to make friends in the industry, doesn't it? The investigation centres on whether Via, which Intel, apparently fears more than AMD, has breached US trade laws by importing chipsets including technology which the giant claims breaches its own patents. There is already impending legal action against Via and its affiliates, and civil cases are pending in the UK, the US and Singapore. But this is a slightly different kettle of old fish, because the ITC, if it finds in Intel's favour, will be able to prevent US borders being breached by that pesky Far Eastern Via technology. Last year, at the Computex show in Taipei, it was evident from talking to a mass of OEMs and motherboard manufacturers that they were far from happy with Intel's product plans. First off, they didn't want to be bumped into using Rambus memory; secondly, they weren't that keen on Intel's 810 motherboards, which didn't offer the functionality that their own customers wanted; and thirdly they seemed terrified to admit that they would make motherboards for AMD's Athlon platform. In short, they were afraid to step on the tail of the Intel monster, for fear that it would turn round and bite them, very hard. But the ironies of Intel's complaint to the ITC should not be lost on anyone. As part of the US federal apparatus, it has more than a passing connection with other bodies which have taken an interest in Intel's affairs in the past. Intel is a multinational company, and just a quick glance at its financial results shows that more business is conducted outside US borders than within. We cannot claim to be experts on patent technology, but surely it would be better to dispose of the alleged breaches in the various civil courts first, before dragging Uncle Sam into the fray. It's hard to avoid the sneaking suspicion here that Intel is terribly afraid that a combo of Via and AMD may pose a serious challenge to its business, not just at the chipset level, but also that the Taiwanese upstart may dare to nibble away at its low-end Celeron business. After all, of the top ten PC firms, the only domino not to fall to the spectre of second sourcing is the Dell Corporation. Nevertheless, put Chipzilla into any kind of a corner, and it's not just going to squat on its haunches and croon silently to itself. Behind the scenes, it is clear that Intel sees the confederation between AMD and Via as a clear threat to its domination of the x.86 market. Nature, red in tooth and claw, is not half as frightening as Chipzilla when it gets really mad. ®

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