Intel loses EU fine challenge

BY Matt Atkins

US chipmaker Intel has failed to overturn a $1.44bn fine handed down by EU antitrust regulators five years ago.

In its 2009 decision, the European Commission found Intel guilty of giving rebates to selected PC manufacturers in return for buying their processor chips over those produced by rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Intel is also said to have paid German retail chain Media Saturn Holding to exclusively stock computers powered by Intel chips. "The Commission demonstrated to the requisite legal standard that Intel attempted to conceal the anti-competitive nature of its practices and implemented a long term comprehensive strategy to foreclose AMD from the strategically most important sales channels," the court said.

Judges at the Luxembourg-based General Court backed the Commission's decision, saying the EU watchdog’s approach had not been heavy-handed, despite being the highest single antitrust penalty the authorities in Brussels have levied on a single company. The fine is equal to 4.15 percent of Intel's 2008 turnover, against a possible maximum of 10 percent. "The General Court considers that none of the arguments raised by Intel supports the conclusion that the fine imposed is disproportionate,” said judges. “On the contrary, it must be considered that fine is appropriate in the light of the facts of the case."

European regulators have emerged as some of the world’s staunchest enforcers of antitrust laws, particularly in the technology sector, stepping up their pursuit of violators in the late 2000s. The Intel ruling may be an early signal that global authorities are gearing up to pursue errant technology firms.

Intel contests that it has committed no wrongdoing, that its rebates and discounts were legal and a common way of rewarding companies for purchasing its products in large quantities. Going forward, the firm can take its case further to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Press Release: Antitrust: Commission welcomes General Court judgment upholding its decision against Intel

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