Microprocessor giant Intel Corporation won a major victory in its antitrust battle this week when a federal judge threw out a major portion of the lawsuit brought by PC maker Intergraph, which alleged that Intel had infringed on a variety of its patents, violated federal antitrust laws, and conducted business illegally. Last November, a previous order that had required Intel to shared proprietary information with Intergraph was lifted, giving the company its first victory in the case. And though a final judgment is yet to come, analysts say the case is now basically over.
"Once we're through, it will be clear that Intel's behavior was lawful," says Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesperson.
Intergraph's original 1997 lawsuit claimed that Intel violated one of its patents when Intel created the Pentium microprocessor. Intel sold hundreds of millions of the chips and its successors, and Intergraph challenged Intel for compensation. The company charges that Intel then began withholding parts, technical support, and other information it needed to compete in the PC market. The patent at issue was previously owned by National Semiconductor, and Intel says it has rights to the technology because of a 1976 agreement between the two companies. However, Intergraph cites a 1987 purchase of the National Semiconductor subsidiary that owned the patent as its ownership claim to the technology.
In 1998, Intergraph won an injunction against Intel that forced the chip giant to share information about its Pentium processors with Intergraph. But the judge later dismissed the patent-infringement suit and, in November, an appellate court overturned the injunction. This week's ruling stated that Intel's technology was not an essential facility that companies must have access to in order to compete in the PC industry.
Intel's alleged patent infringement and unfair business practices are still at issue, of course, and the case could go to trial this summer. Still, the dismissal of the most damaging charge is good news for Intel, which had hoped to escape a Microsoft-esque battle with the federal government