The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a foreign governmental body can view documents that were provided to U.S. courts under confidentiality agreements.
In an action that will likely be followed by a number of high-tech companies, the Supreme Court will determine whether the European Commission can obtain confidential Intel business documents that were given under seal to a U.S. district court in a different matter. If the Supreme Court permits discovery, companies may find that confidentiality agreements provide little protection in many circumstances.
The documents in question involve hundreds of thousands of pages, according to Intel.
The case stems from a dispute between Advanced Micro Devices and Intel over documents that were produced in a legal dispute between Intergraph and Intel.
In 2000, AMD complained to the European Commission that Intel was violating European anticompetition laws through "abusive" marketing programs, one of which is said to include the "Intel Inside" campaign. Under these campaigns, Intel gives marketing and advertising funds to computer makers that fulfill certain sales criteria.
The Intel Inside campaign was part of a long-running, complex legal action between Intergraph and Intel initially filed in 1997 with Intergraph alleging that the campaign violated U.S. antitrust law.
Although Intel paid millions to settle the Intergraph case, the settlement revolved around Intergraph's patent infringement claims. The antitrust claims were thrown out in 2000.
In 2001, AMD petitioned the U.S. District Court of Northern California to obtain documents and expert testimony under seal in the Intergraph case. At the time, an AMD spokesman said the documents could support the company's argument that "Intel has selectively withheld information about computing interfaces for Windows computers."
The court declined. Subsequently, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Intel appealed to the Supreme Court to settle the issue. During the summer, the U.S. Solicitor General advised the Supreme Court to accept the case because there was a split in the case law. One of the issues is whether the European Commission
is a judicial body, which can be subjected to similar restrictions as U.S. courts, or a governmental agency.
"It has been a concern that the ruling of the 9th Circuit opens up a company to broad discovery...from a third party," Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said.
Mulloy further pointed out that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the European Commission itself filed briefs in support of Intel's position on the appeal from the 9th Circuit decision.
AMD said it believes the documents could shed light on its case.
"Information that was part of that suit would be of interest to the current EC investigation," said Morris Denton, an AMD spokesman. Denton added that he was unfamiliar with any Commission brief in support of Intel's petition.