Intel gets record $1.45 bil antitrust fine

Told to halt practices used to squeeze out rival AMD

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission fined Intel Corp. a record €1.06 billion ($1.45 billion) on Wednesday and ordered it to halt illegal rebates and other practices it used to squeeze out its rival, AMD.

The world's biggest chipmaker paid computer makers to postpone or scrap plans to launch products using AMD chips, paid illegal rebates to encourage them to use Intel chips and paid a retailer to stock computers with its chips, the Commission said.

The antitrust fine, imposed after an eight-year investigation, is the biggest the European Union's executive arm has imposed on an individual company.

David Anderson, a lawyer at Berwin Leighton Paisner, said Intel was "facing a wall of regulatory resistance to its business practices around the world" with antitrust infringement decisions against it now in Japan, South Korea and the EU.

U.S. authorities are also investigating Intel, whose microprocessors power eight out of every 10 personal computers.

Financial analysts said U.S.-based Intel would be able to maintain its market dominance but the EU's decision could help Advanced Micro Devices boost its market share.

"Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years," European Union Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

The Commission said Intel must cease all illegal practices immediately but Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini said the company would appeal at the Court of First Instance, the EU's second-highest court.

"Intel takes exception to this decision. We believe the decision is wrong and ignores the reality of a highly competitive microprocessor market," he said in a statement.

Kroes said the EU antitrust sanctions would be carried out immediately. In a previous antitrust case against software giant Microsoft, the Commission froze its remedies during part of an appeal filed by that company.

Bruce Sewell, a lawyer for Intel, said the firm had not yet begun talks with the Commission on how to comply with its ruling and said: "We will try to be compliant with the order."

The fine offset earlier optimism after Intel said late on Tuesday its orders and billing patterns had been slightly better than expected so far in the second quarter. Shares of Intel rose 1.3% in premarket trade.

Some analysts said the decision would have little strategic impact and would not change the way Intel operates.

Others said it was a historic decision that showed the extent of the EU's determination to ensure dominant companies do not shut rivals out of the market and would have a big impact on the global IT industry.

"Intel's competitive advantage is not that they cheated or anything like that. It's that they are much larger than their smaller rival AMD. As far as long-term competitive advantage (goes), Intel still has it," said Andy Ng, an analyst at investment research firm Morningstar.

The Commission investigated practices dating to 2002, and said Europe accounted for 30% of Intel's current worldwide €22 billion market.

The Commission said Intel must pay the fine, which represents 4.15% of the company's 2008 turnover, within three months of being notified of the decision.

It could have fined Intel 10% of annual revenue.

The penalty surpassed the €896 million fine last year on glass maker Saint-Gobain for price fixing, and a €497 million penalty in 2004 on Microsoft for abuse of dominance.

Intel posted first-quarter sales of $7.1 billion. Analysts estimated the company enjoys a sizeable cash balance, generating close to $10 billion in cash last year.