EU revisits Intel probe

The European Commission sends out new letters of inquiry in its probe of Intel business practices, after receiving additional information from AMD.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
The European Commission has begun a new round of inquiries in its investigation of chipmaker Intel's business practices.

The Commission recently issued 64 letters of inquiry regarding Intel to computer makers and retailers in the region, after it received information from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices.

"We received a (new) complaint from AMD and are conducting a fact-finding mission by sending letters to key players in the industry," said Amelia Torres, a spokeswoman for the Commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union.

Any resolution remains far in the future, she said. "We are a long way from coming to a preliminary conclusion on Intel."

The Commission's investigation, which essentially focuses on whether Intel has used its dominant position to influence the market for PC processors, was opened in 2001. The investigation had been quiet lately, but was never concluded. During this time, AMD has kept in touch with the Commission and has continued to pass along information.

European regulators are also investigating the procurement processes of government agencies in several countries, which specify that only Intel-based computers may be purchased. In addition, Intel is under investigation by regulators in Japan.

The new probe is being handled by the same European Commission team that investigated Microsoft. That effort led to a decision against the software maker that included a record fine of more than $600 million and an order for the company to change its practices.

As part of the original complaint against Intel, the Commission looked into allegations that the company abused its position in the market for Windows-capable microprocessors by engaging in abusive marketing practices. At that time, it also sent information requests to computer makers and retailers.

Specifically, regulators are examining whether Intel used its dominant position in the chip marketplace to issue allegedly unfair royalty rebates and exclusive purchase agreements, said Frank Fine, an antitrust attorney with law firm DLA in Brussels.

Torres declined to comment on the substance of the allegations in the Intel case or on whether others have stepped forward with complaints regarding the chipmaker. One source familiar with the issue was unaware of any other companies lodging similar complaints against Intel.

Intel said that it has not received any new queries from the Commission but that, as a rule, it cooperates with any investigation.

"Our position remains the same as it's been for more than three years," company spokesman Chuck Mulloy said. "We have said all along that our business practices are both fair and lawful around the world."

AMD has been battling with Intel to gain a bigger share of the PC processor market for years.

"Our position is that the investigation never really stopped," said spokesman Michael Simonoff. "We think there's something to it, and it's really in the interest of a level playing field. We just want to be able to compete fairly."

AMD has also attempted to provide the Commission with legal documents from the dispute between Intel and Intergraph over patents. That attempt has been held up in U.S. courts--most recently in the Supreme Court, which heard oral augments in the case in April but has not yet issued a decision.

Reuters contributed to this report.