Speculation is mounting that the US Federal Trade Commission is preparing a case against Intel for abuse of its dominant market position.
Sources said top FTC lawyers will review the proposed charges this week and could take action as early as next week. Although the FTC will not comment on pending decisions, it would probably file quite narrow charges at first and broaden them later.
In a case last month, seen as the precursor to government action, a federal judge in Alabama ruled that Intel used its "life and death market power" to cut off information and enabling technology to workstation maker Intergraph, which had filed a patent suit against the chipmaker. The judge ruled this illegal on the grounds that Intergraph needed the information to stay in business.
The judge then issued a preliminary injunction ordering Intel to provide the same level of service to Intergraph as to other customers. Intel complied with the order but appealed.
The FTC has studied that decision, and the rulings made by antitrust authorities before clearing Intel's manufacturing agreement with Digital Equipment earlier this year. The evidence suggests, according to US sources, that the FTC believes it can make a case that Intel is violating antitrust laws, by using its power to force others to give up their trade secrets or co-operate with Intel.
The charges are likely to be heard before an administrative law judge rather than a federal court, if the FTC follows the pattern it has set in the past.
A spokesman at Intel said he was unaware of any case but stated that Intel will continue to cooperate and meet the staff of the FTC.
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