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U.S. Supreme Court Revisiting Intel, AMD Spat

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday said it will hear a case that pits chip-making giants and rivals Intel and AMD on the question of overseas business practices.

The case stems from an appeal by Intel, which recently asked a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco to reconsider a European antitrust investigation filed by AMD three years ago.

Back in October 2000, AMD complained to the EU that Intel was throwing its weight around too much overseas and filed its grievances with the U.S. Courts. To support its complaint, AMD likened its plight to another case: Intergraph v. Intel and asked the chip giant to open up sealed documents and transcripts as part of its testimony.

Huntsville, Ala.-based Intergraph and Intel fought for several years over the ownership of patents already being used in Intel Itanium microprocessors.

Intel objected to AMD's demands, saying that the matter before the EU was not a "proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal." The original district court sided with Intel but the decision was later overturned in the Ninth Circuit Court.

In his reversal opinion in June 2002, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins said, " Because we also determine that there is no requirement that AMD show that what is sought would be discoverable in the proceedings before the European Commission, the district court may proceed to consider AMD's request on the merits."

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that the allowance of "liberal discovery" seemed consistent with past laws: providing efficient assistance to participants in international litigation and encouraging foreign countries by example to provide similar assistance to U.S. courts."

Bottom line: if the Supreme Court sides with Intel, the No. 1 chipmaker won't have to reveal personal patent documents about its Itanium processor. If AMD succeeds, it could set a precedent for a wider range of discovery in cases outside of the U.S.

Neither a spokesperson for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel nor Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD were available to comment on the proceedings. The Justices are expected to hear the case next year with a decision due in June.