RealTime IT News

Intel Under EC Microscope Again

European antitrust regulators are again asking questions about Intel's alleged bully tactics with PC makers, the company said Tuesday.

The new inquiry piggy-backs on reports in April 2004 that seven countries -- Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands -- ignored a European Commission (EC)-mandated, open-bidding process in favor of exclusively purchasing Intel-based computers.

Sources talking to Reuters reported the EC was sending letters to its list of PC makers asking again about accusations of serious repercussions if OEMs did not use Intel chips.

The news also comes at the same time that Microsoft filed its appeal of the European Union's $613 million antitrust ruling. The same EC investigators are involved with both cases.

While the EC has yet to take legal action, more governments are probing Intel. So far, trade officials in North America, Europe and Japan have questioned Intel's sphere of influence. In April, Japan's Fair Trade Commission took documents in an unannounced visit to three Intel offices in Tokyo.

Intel said the EC matter is an extension of a 2001 inquiry into the Santa Clara, Calif.,-based chipmaking giant's business practices following complaints from rival AMD . That complaint went before the EC, and it accused Intel of abusing its dominant position in the Windows-capable microprocessor market and violating anti-monopoly rules (Article 82) in Europe.

Intel General Council Chuck Mulloy told internetnews.com the company has been cooperating with the EC over the past three years and expects to continue to do so.

"Given Intel's size and our success in certain market segments, it is not unusual for regulators to look into our business practices," Mulloy said. "Intel has a rigorous antitrust compliance program. The program was initiated in the mid 1980s and has been significantly enhanced over time. While we can't give you specific details of the program, we can tell you that its purpose is to ensure that Intel complies with both the letter and the spirit of antitrust laws worldwide. All sales, marketing and management staffs undergo regular training to ensure legal compliance."

Intel's position in the world is huge holding 80 percent of the market for chips that run personal computers and 90 percent of the revenue share worldwide. By contrast, AMD has about 16.8 percent of the market share and barely registers in the double digits when it comes to worldwide revenue share. Taiwan-based Via Technologies and Transmeta round out the top four.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also reviewing the Intel/AMD case. If the Justices side with Intel, the No. 1 chipmaker won't have to reveal personal patent documents to AMD and the EC about its processors. If AMD succeeds, it could set a precedent for a wider range of discovery in cases outside of the U.S.