During an interview in April that coincided with the Opteron's two-year anniversary, Advanced Micro Devices CEO Hector Ruiz went into a passionate complaint about Intel and its business practices. It was a complaint that Ruiz had been repeating often, particularly since last year. So I interrupted him and asked the question:
If you're so convinced Intel is acting anticompetitively, why don't you complain to the government?
Well, Ruiz said, AMD has been talking to the government. In fact, he told me, the FTC had even approached his company within the past year and asked a lot of questions about Intel. Another investigation was, presumably, in the works.
That sounded like a pretty big story, until I got back to my desk and fielded a call from one of AMD's outside PR consultants, Victoria Esser, who did her best to get the toothpaste back in the tube. She said Ruiz's comments were simply incorrect.
"He overstated," said Esser, who works in the same Glover Park Group consulting firm as former Clinton administration spokesman Joseph Lockhart and former Democratic strategist Carter Eskew. "There is no formal [FTC] investigation. They do talk to [AMD] all the time on a variety of issues."
It doesn't take much to imagine what the "variety of issues" includes, however.
In light of AMD's antitrust lawsuit against Intel, which was filed last week, it's understandable why the FTC would be front and center in Ruiz's thinking. While a private lawsuit in a Delaware court could take years and years to reach an end, AMD could speed up the action and do what former Intel rival Intergraph did in the 1990s: Sue Intel, collect a lot of testimony and evidence during pretrial discovery, wrap it up into a neat package and deliver it to the FTC. During the Intergraph matter, the FTC sued Intel and forced the chip giant into a settlement.
For its part, the FTC responded to what Ruiz said in April by doing what the commission always does: Through a spokesman, it issued a "no comment."
As Intel CEO Paul Otellini noted last week, his company has been down this road before. By most accounts, though, the Intergraph matter left a mark. It brought unneeded bad publicity and legal attention to Intel, not to mention an aggravating FTC case that paralleled it.
Huntsville, Ala.-based Intergraph was also able to claim a series of underdog legal victories against Intel and gain worldwide recognition in the process.
But there's a postscript to the Integraph-Intel fight that Ruiz might want to consider. Despite succeeding in taking on its big rival, Intergraph today finds itself out of the microprocessor business altogether. It's a software and services company.