Judge dismisses antitrust charges against Intel

US court rules that Intel did not violate antitrust laws

Intel did not violate federal antitrust laws by withholding product information from Intergraph, the US District Court in Birmingham, Alabama, ruled on Monday in dismissing a lawsuit against the chip maker.

Intergraph, which makes graphic chips and workstations, filed the suit in November 1997, alleging that Intel unfairly retaliated against it by cutting off access to product information after it threatened to file a patent infringement suit. The company won an injunction in April 1998 that temporarily forced Intel to share processor information with it. At that time, US District Judge Edwin Nelson compared the market dominance of Intel to software giant Microsoft, and contended that denying information access to Intergraph would put the company at an unfair advantage.

But Nelson later dismissed Intergraph's patent infringement suit (involving processor cache memory management) against Intel. And in November, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the injunction, contending that while Intel's actions certainly put Intergraph at a disadvantage in the industry, the action itself did not violate antitrust laws.

"The Sherman Antitrust Act does not convert all harsh commercial actions into antitrust violations," the court ruled at the time. "Unilateral conduct that may adversely affect another's business situation, but is not intended to monopolise that business, does not violate the Sherman Act."

The November ruling basically set the stage for today's result by contending that Intel's product information could not be considered an "essential facility" that companies must have access to in order to successfully compete in the computer industry.

With today's dismissal of the federal suit, Intel is left facing only state claims of unfair business practices and breach of contract.

Officials at Intel and Intergraph were not immediately available for comment.

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