FTC closes Intel antitrust investigation

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has closed its antitrust investigation of Intel Corp.’s business practices, the chip maker has announced.

In a letter to Intel President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett, the director of the FTC’s bureau of competition said the agency has concluded that “no further action is warranted by the Commission at this time,” Intel said in a statement.

The FTC filed its antitrust suit against Intel in September 1997, accusing the chip maker of harming competition when it refused to do business with three companies – Compaq Computer Corp., Intergraph Corp. and the former Digital Equipment Corp. (since acquired by Compaq) – unless they agreed to licence patented technology on Intel’s terms.

Intel never really denied the facts of the case but argued that its behaviour amounted to no more than a game of hardball in a competitive industry.

Intel settled the case with the FTC in March 1999, days before the case was to come to trial, although the FTC had said it would continue its investigation. As part of the settlement, Intel agreed that under most circumstances it wouldn’t refuse to do business with companies with which it has patent disputes.

Aside from the FTC action, Huntsville, Alabama-based Intergraph had filed its own, private lawsuit against Intel in 1997, in which it accused the company of patent infringement and violations of antitrust law and Alabama state business laws. The judge in that case threw out the antitrust portion of the lawsuit in March this year.

The FTC has also closed its investigation into whether Intel’s acquisition of Chips & Technologies Inc. and its equity investment in Real3D Inc., two makers of graphics chips, had any anti-competitive effects on the market.

The FTC had said in February 1998 that it wouldn’t sue to prevent those acquisitions, but that it would continue to review their possible effects.