It's difficult to investigate unlawful activity when the potential victims refuse to testify for fear of retaliation. By AMD's telling, that's exactly what's happening in AMD versus Intel. Through back channels, system and component makers are pleading with AMD to lend them a hand as, again according to AMD, Intel squeezes more tightly than ever.

Here in the States, AMD has done all it can do on its own. Filing a private civil suit against Intel amounts to a citizen's arrest and it gets the ball rolling, but the case's direction and speed are hard to predict.

AMD has secured a court order to prevent Intel from destroying documents, a practice in which I doubt Intel was inclined to indulge. That buys time, but now it falls to AMD to investigate. AMD is convinced there is damning evidence to be found. Those reluctant to damage their relationship with Intel, however, are reticent to add their names to AMD's roster of witnesses. After all, AMD's complaint accuses Intel of inflicting gross retribution on customers who don't give Intel top billing in their product lines.

If AMD's accusations hold a shred of truth, a vendor participating in AMD's case risks crippling price hikes and supply cutbacks on Intel parts, not to mention revocation of generous incentives that effectively subsidise purchases of Intel-branded components.

The very system makers, distributors, resellers and high-volume buyers who are pleading with AMD to do more are those least inclined to get involved. Why? AMD can't protect them. It can't shield participants from retribution. AMD has had to resort to sending subpoenas to dozens of companies and individuals that it believes have knowledge of Intel's actions. The magnitude of the burden facing AMD's litigation crew is enormous.

By itself, the size of the task facing AMD is no reason to sympathise with its cause. But it does, in my mind, dilute Intel's assertion that AMD is just whining to the courts about Intel's success. Set aside the legal fees and consider the impact subpoenas will have on AMD's relationships with its cus­tomers.

Nobody likes to be served, least of all companies that must continue to do business with Intel. As this case unfolds, AMD will face cold shoulders from those subpoenaed who either don't align with AMD's view or would rather just be left out of it. If Intel's right, then AMD is willing to pay dearly for annoying Intel in court. Another factor that points to AMD's seeming interest in a good greater than its market share is its engraved invitation to the Feds to get involved. If the government takes over, AMD loses its capability to spin the case to its primary advantage.

It can't sit on the courtroom's sidelines with a neck brace and a hangdog expression, as Intel seems to expect AMD to do. If this becomes United States versus Intel, the plaintiffs' list will explode overnight. The plunder that sceptics think AMD is after could be split a hundred or a thousand ways in the end. That AMD versus Intel will dramatically change the market is certain. Even if Intel proves blameless, its claim that AMD is a natural born loser looking for the courts to protect it from its fate does not stand.

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