updated 10:30 am EST, Wed December 16, 2009
FTC ignores AMD settlement in Intel suit
The Federal Trade Commission today sued Intel for alleged anti-competitive practices. The complaint accuses Intel of conducting a "systematic campaign" of blocking access to competing processors that primarily centered on a system of rewards and threats to computer manufacturers. Intel has regularly either given incentives or threatened a lack of support to Dell, HP and other companies if too many (or any) of their systems ran processors from challengers like AMD, the US agency claims.
This and some other claims echo those that led to a $1.45 billion European Union fine, such as assertions that Intel unfairly wrote its software compiler to favor itself over AMD.
Significantly, however, the FTC complaint now also addresses Intel's dispute with NVIDIA and charges Intel with having "misled and deceived" those producing faster performing graphics chipsets in order to protect its own business. NVIDIA has publicly accused Intel of deliberately misinterpreting its chipset license to ban it from producing chipsets for any Intel processor that uses an integrated memory controller, which would in practice shut it out from nearly all of Intel's 2010 processor line.
Previous allegations have also insisted Intel was excluding NVIDIA Ion from netbooks through unfair bundling that priced an Atom and chipset pair below just the Atom itself, guaranteeing that most companies would ignore the faster, smaller Ion hardware to save money.
The FTC notes the lawsuit is not a direct antitrust case and only accuses Intel of violating competition and monopoly rules under Section 5 of the FTC Act. As a result, it prevents other companies from 'piggybacking' on the lawsuit by using an antitrust decision to demand triple damages in any private cases.
In pursuing the complaint, the government commission is hoping to ban Intel from engaging in unfair bundling, pricing and exclusionary licenses and could, if victorious, force Intel to allow NVIDIA chipsets like the GeForce 9400M and Ion for Core i3, i5 and i7 processors as well as future Atom designs. Companies like Apple have faced the possibility of mandatory major reworkings of their computers to continue using modern processors.
Intel hasn't formally responded to the lawsuit. AMD isn't expected to formally endorse the action, however, as it recently reached a settlement with Intel that drops it from participation in legal anti-competition disputes.