FTC Finally to Investigate Intel on the Record

Intel has been fighting off charges of monopolistic activity in the microprocessor market for years, with Advanced Micro Devices as the lead accuser before a range of world trade powers. Now the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is finally entering the fray — years after everyone else saw the writing on the wall.

Until recently, the U.S. had proven a safe haven for the microprocessor mega-manufacturer, after both Asian and European regulators fixed their sites on the oddly anti-competitive pressures experienced by AMD and other chipsellers. That ended in January, when New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that his office would launch an investigation into allegations that Intel squeezed out AMD and stifled innovation in order to maintain their hold on the market. The FTC, however, steadfastly refused to consider an official inquiry into the matter — an "informal investigation" has been underway, without results, for two years — despite pressure from Congress and support from inside the Commission.

That stance changed on Friday, when the FTC decided to upgrade its review, bringing the U.S. on par with the European Union — currently in the midst of a similar, if somewhat more aggressive investigation. Japan and South Korea also conducted probes, with the Japanese FTC holding Intel in violation of Japan's antitrust laws in 2005, and South Korean regulators imposing a $25.6 million fine only the day before the FTC ramped up its inquiry. What changed the Commission's mind? Presumably a combination of factors, but most prominent among them is the departure of Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras — a former anti-trust defense attorney — who had steadfastly refused to launch an investigation.

The FTC probe will likely add fuel to the already raging fire in AMD's 2005 lawsuit against Intel, which is currently in discovery so intense that the court has postponed the trial for a year, moving it to early 2010.
Justin Ryan is News Editor for LinuxJournal.com.
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