According to US press reports, the Federal Trade Commission is moving ever closer towards bringing an antitrust case against chipmaker Intel.
William Baer, the FTC's antitrust chief, has reportedly recommended that the Commission should file suit following meetings last week (see Newswire 27 May). The five FTC Commissioners will vote on the recommendation in the next week, but they are unlikely to go against it.
Intel now appears almost certain to face antitrust charges.
The FTC is expected to move ahead first with a limited case, based in large part on evidence from the civil suit brought against Intel by PC maker Intergraph.
Intergraph filed suit in November 1997, accusing Intel of patent infringement and of withholding technical information. Intergraph claims that, while both companies were involved in a patent dispute, Intel refused to supply information about its new microprocessors.
Last month, the judge in the Intergraph case issued a preliminary injunction, forcing Intel to provide Intergraph with the same information it supplies to other PC manufacturers. Intel is appealing this decision.
Intel was involved in a similar dispute with Digital Equipment, where it was again accused of retaliating against a patent lawsuit by threatening to cut off the company's supply of processors. However, this dispute was resolved when Intel offered to buy Digital?s chip factory, in a deal the FTC has approved.
But a broader antitrust case is reportedly also in the works. Some sources claim the FTC might accuse Intel of predatory pricing and contracts to defend and expand its monopoly ? accusations that echo the DoJ?s complaint against Microsoft.
The FTC is believed to be investigating whether Intel has attempted unlawfully to lock competitors out of the market, for instance, by moving towards a new, proprietary interface between processor and motherboard. These accusations might surface in a later, wider antitrust case.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice (DoJ) both have authority to investigate antitrust cases, and the FTC initially investigated Microsoft before the DoJ took over the case.
An antitrust lawsuit would mean more bad news for Intel, only days after the company admitted that its next generation Merced chip would be six months late.
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