Intel reaches 'tentative settlement' with FTC

U.S. regulators are out busting chops lately. Just last week, Dell's allegedly unorthodox dealings with Intel led to a $100-million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Now, it's the Federal Trade Commission's turn to inflict punishment—this time on Intel. The chipmaker has reached a "tentative settlement" with the FTC that requires a number of changes to its business practices.

The legalese in the settlement terms (PDF) is a little tough to wade through, but from my understanding, a few things stand out:

  • Intel has to include a standard PCI Express interface in its high-volume platforms for the next six years. The chipmaker isn't allowed to "design any Required Interface to intentionally limit the performance or operation of any Relevant GPU in a manner that would render the Required Interface non-compliant with the applicable PCIe Base Specification."
  • Intel isn't allowed to make any design changes to its products if those changes degrade the performance of competing products without positively impacting its own products. If such a change were to occur because of a bug, Intel would have to demonstrate that it was indeed inadvertent.
  • Within 90 days of the order becoming effective, Intel has to "Clearly and Prominently" inform customers who purchased its compilers whether those compilers "optimize to the same degree for non-Intel microprocessors for optimizations that are not unique to Intel microprocessors." In addition, Intel has to reimburse customers who have "detrimentally relied on Intel representations as to compiler availability, functionality, or effectiveness."
  • Intel has to confirm that Via is allowed to make and sell x86 microprocessors, and as far as I can tell, Intel also has to extend Via's patent licensing agreement until 2018.
  • Intel can't offer or deny benefits to customers or end users based on their use of competing products, and it must retain "all written contracts" pertaining to the purchase and sale of relevant products for five years.
  • If one of its competitors changes ownership, Intel has to wait 30 days before initiating patent litigation, and it has to enter into "good faith negotiations regarding the future patent relationship" with that competitor.

That's a doozy. Just like Dell with the SEC, however, Intel was able to reach this tentative settlement with the FTC without officially admitting guilt. (I'm sure Intel wrote that $1.25 billion check to AMD out of the kindness of its heart, too.)

According to Intel's press release, the FTC settlement terms are "subject to a 30 day public comment period and final approval by the Commission."

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