from the desk of Senior Associate Editor Samuel K. Moore
Last Friday, the European Commission charged Intel with violations of the European antitrust rules. According to the complaint:
â''First, Intel has provided substantial rebates to various Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) conditional on them obtaining all or the great majority of their CPU requirements from Intel. Secondly, in a number of instances, Intel made payments in order to induce an OEM to either delay or cancel the launch of a product line incorporating an AMD-based CPU. Thirdly, in the context of bids against AMD-based products for strategic customers in the server segment of the market, Intel has offered CPUs on average below cost.â''
Intel portrays the action as just another attack by a competitor who is not succeeding in the market on the merits of its products. In a conference call to reporters today, AMDâ''s executive vice president of legal affairs, Tom McCoy tried to take apart that argument while CEO Hector Ruiz twisted the knife with such niceties as:
Intelâ''s â''innovations are to serve themselves, not their customers or consumers.â'' And: â''Earned success is one thing, illegal maintenance of a monopoly is another.â''
McCoy really had only one point to make, but it was a pretty good one. â''Intel would like to position this as just a dispute between companies,â'' McCoy told us. â''But it isnâ''t. Itâ''s a dispute between Intel and the European Commission.â'' The European Commission action is based on evidence not from AMD but from Intel and its customers (or its victims of blackmail if you subscribe to AMDâ''s theory). The EC will not even be weighing damage to AMD, but instead charges that European consumers have been forced to pay Intel â''an unjust and illegal monopoly tax.â'' From a legal standpoint, it really is Europe vs. Intel not AMD vs. Intel.
While the EC may be focused on the needs of European consumers, itâ''s obviously AMD that would benefit from a constrained Intel. When asked what the outcome of an EC victory would be for AMD McCoy said you can expect a consent decree, ala Microsoft, that prohibited Intel from using false rebates and retaliating against computer makers that use AMD processors. Meanwhile, Ruiz went for emotion: â''We just want the opportunity for this boycott of our product to stop.â''
McCoy claims that the benefits of an EC victory may already be accruing even before the case is tried. The unblinking eye of regulatory agencies around the world, he says, has stiffened the backs of computer makers formerly bound to Intel. He notes that new business from Dell and Toshiba followed the filing of the antitrust case in the United States and the Europeanâ''s raid on Intel in 2005. It was the computer makers, after all, who know what evidence the Commission has at its disposal.
Speaking of evidence, the EC case could be a boon for a suit against Intel in the United States, which McCoy said was â''bogged down in discovery by Intelâ''s epidemic failure to produce emails.â'' Never mind what an â''epidemic failureâ'' is, the point is that the EC probably has its hands on some juicy stuff, or it wouldnâ''t have taken this latest step. And if such legal morsels exist overseas, they might be imported to AMDâ''s benefit.