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The FTC announced Friday that it will formally examine whether Intel abused its dominant position

Somewhere at the headquarters of AMD, there must have been a cheer that went up on Friday.  After months of losing ground to Intel, employee layoffs, and under the shadow of Intel's looming Nehalem architecture, the company finally had some good news to be happy about.

It’s no small mystery that AMD these days simply seems incapable of outcompeting Intel.  Intel argues that this is due to its superior products.  AMD, however, has long maintained that Intel was deploying anticompetitive processes, which it says are digging it into a hole from which it cannot escape.  However, despite a passionate ad campaign and lengthy discussions with antitrust officials in the U.S., AMD has seemingly had a tough time selling its idea that Intel was cheating in the microprocessor war.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which supervises free trade in the U.S., announced that it was launching a formal antitrust investigation against Intel.  The stakes are high for both Intel and AMD; the total market for microprocessors racked up $225 billion in sales last year. 

Both Intel and AMD realize what’s at stake and have spent tens of millions in legal expenses and on public relations campaigns.  AMD had previous success in Europe, Korea, and Japan -- all of which have investigated Intel or threatened it with possible fines.  However, the biggest victory -- a U.S. antitrust investigation -- seemed out of reach until this week.

State authorities and federal appointees from the Bush administration have been taking a more lenient approach to antitrust that their European counterparts.  However, the major decision Friday marked a sharp new shift in policy. 

The new investigation originated with the new blood -- William E. Kovacic, the new chairman of the trade commission.  With the backing of his fellow commissioners, he reversed the decision of Deborah P. Majoras, the previous chair, who had been blocking the investigation for months to the frustration of those on Capitol Hill.  Majoras was a more lenient appointee, and helped work out the antitrust settlement in 2001 with Microsoft.

It will take months before formal charges against Intel might be made, so the upcoming administration’s stance will greatly factor into the case.  AMD is relying on the federal case as only one state -- New York, at the behest of attorney general Andrew M. Cuomo -- has agreed to investigate Intel on a state level.  California attorney general Jerry Brown denied AMD's pleas, derisively commenting that he was "not barking at every truck that comes down the street."

D. Bruce Sewell, Intel’s senior vice president and general counsel, says that the U.S. antitrust laws are different than European ones, and it will not be charged.  Intel is planning on racking up its Capitol Hill efforts, though, likely in the form of lobbyist dollars.

The first signs of the upcoming bad news for Intel appeared when chip manufacturers began to get subpoenaed by the FTC.  The FTC is working with Europe and other foreign governments to obtain evidence to use against Intel in a possible case.  Mr. Sewell said that he was working amiably with the FTC on a less formal review since 2006 and that Intel would remain cooperative.

AMD's top executives expressed their pleasure over the Commission's decision.  Tom McCoy, executive vice president for legal affairs at AMD, stated, "Intel must now answer to the Federal Trade Commission, which is the appropriate way to determine the impact of Intel practices on U.S. consumers and technology businesses.  In every country around the world where Intel’s business practices have been investigated, including the decision by South Korea this week, antitrust regulators have taken action."

The largest U.S. antitrust investigation since the Microsoft one of the 90s came the same week as more good news for AMD; Korean officials slammed Intel with a $25 million fine for violating its fair trade laws.  The Korean officials discovered that Intel illegally paid Samsung Electronics and the Trigem Company $37 million in payments between 2002 and 2005 to not buy AMD processors.  The European Union's European Commission (EC), which charged Intel with "the aim of excluding its main rival from the market" is expected to expand its charges this year.

Intel currently owns somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the worldwide microprocessor market.  Many U.S. citizens do not realize that U.S. laws do allow monopolies, unlike elsewhere, but forbid companies with a monopoly from using its dominance to restrict competition.

With mounting evidence worldwide, Intel faces a tough case before the FTC.  However, it will likely do what it takes, or perhaps more aptly write the lobbyist checks needed to prevent it from becoming the next Microsoft.  Meanwhile, AMD will also likely step up its efforts in hopes that it can stop its downhill slide by a court victory over Intel.

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RE: Timing
By SlyNine on 6/8/2008 4:10:12 AM , Rating: 3
The question isn't , Will this help AMD. The question is were the *Anti Competitive* practices of Intel back when AlthonXP and P4 were dukeing it out the reason AMD was never able to take a real foothold. It's what Intel did back then that they need to look at.

To simply say the market stuck with Intel because they were familair is to invalidate this whole thing with out even looking at it.

I'm not saying that Intel will loose or AMD needs to be handed anything except maybe if they do produce another competitive product, They have a fair chance to compete. If Intel was indeed doing somthing wrong and have changed their ways.

I waited and waited for AMD to come out with somthing but as nothing was competitive with the Q6600 ( I overclock witch makes the choice even more loop sided) I had no good option other then Intel, That and I had 2 8800GT's that need a good SLI home.

RE: Timing
By Ringold on 6/8/2008 4:40:54 AM , Rating: 2
I don't mean to invalidate the whole thing, but I will doubt Intel did anything that seriously hindered AMD until either the FTC or EU rules as such. By seriously hindered I mean by doing something that resulted in AMD's current red-ink soaked quarterly reports; currently 5.2 billion in debt and -358m net income in Q1. An improvement from Q4, where their net income was -3.3 billion! They sound like General Motors, maybe Toyota dealerships are engaging in illegal activities? Indeed, GM reinforces my assertion that market share is 'sticky', as GM's products sucked for a long time before now coming down to where they are today.

I also just meant to point out that nothing can save AMD if they don't put out a decent product. In the end, that is all that matters. Fighting over what happened in the Athlon XP or 64 and P4 days will provide excellent material for historians but resolution one way or the other in the court room can do very, very little to change the "facts on the ground" today and moving forward, so to speak. As Ceasar would say, alea iacta est! The die is cast.

RE: Timing
By just4U on 6/8/2008 5:12:54 AM , Rating: 2
also just meant to point out that nothing can save AMD if they don't put out a decent product.

They have decent products "right now" just .. Intel has better. Make no mistake those Phenoms of their's are excellent cpu's. I bought a X3 Phenom a few weeks back (out of curiousity) and the performance difference between that and my Intel Quad core setup isn't really noticable at stock speeds.

RE: Timing
By rsmech on 6/9/2008 11:12:54 PM , Rating: 2
I also just meant to point out that nothing can save AMD if they don't put out a decent product.

How do you put out a decent product? Maybe past revenues would help. The suit is not about today. The only question for today is "IF" there was wrong-doing where would AMD be today with more revenue from the past to work with. There is nothing wrong with selling more because you have a better product or even selling more because of name recognition. But if it's because you make questionable exclusives then there may be issues. The courts will decide which was the case.

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