FTC accepts Intel settlement

The US Federal Trade Commission has approved a settlement reached by the Commission's lawyers and Intel in the Government's antitrust case against the chip giant.

The settlement was announced last week but its details were unconfirmed until the Commission's ruling, made public this week, to accept the proposed consent agreement. The 3-0 vote, with one commissioner abstaining for medical reasons, propels the proposed settlement into a 60-day period for public comment.

As expected, Intel has agreed to refrain from withholding or threatening to withhold technical information from customers with whom it has intellectual property disputes, according to a statement from the FTC.

In its complaint filed last summer, the FTC said Intel harmed competition by coercing three firms -- Compaq Computer, Digital Equipment (now owned by Compaq) and Intergraph -- into licensing microprocessor patents on terms favourable to Intel. In each case, the firms had asserted patent-infringement claims either directly or indirectly against the chip maker. And in each case, Intel tried to force the firms into favourable settlements by denying them access to samples and information relating to future Intel processors, which the firms depended on to carry out their core business, the FTC charged.

The proposed settlement also prohibits Intel from refusing or threatening to refuse to sell microprocessors to a customer because of an intellectual-property dispute, according to the FTC's statement.

However, within the bounds of other applicable law, Intel retains the right to decide, in the course of normal business affairs, whether it chooses to provide information to customers and whether it chooses to provide more or earlier information to specific customers with whom it has a joint venture or other business activity, the statement said.

The proposed settlement also identifies specific circumstances under which Intel is not required to provide product or technical information, the statement said. For example, Intel could withhold products or information if they would be used to design competing microprocessors; if the information or product is not being provided to other customers; if a customer has broken a non-disclosure agreement; or if a customer is seeking to enjoin Intel from selling the products to which that information relates.