When Intel wrote a check to the European Union last quarter for $1.4 billion dollars after having been found guilty of abusing its chip industry monopoly, it led to the first quarterly loss the company had reported in 23 years.
Today might mark the first baby step forward to getting that fine back.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an EU ombudsman looking into the case has found "maladministration" by EU regulators who neglected to include "potentially exculpatory evidence" before ruling against Intel.
The ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, can't overrule, or reverse the EU's decision, but with Intel vowing to appeal it aggressively, and sources telling me there has been a pattern of this kind of behavior dating back to Intel's appearances before Europe's Court of First Instance, today's news could be enormous.
Before Intel's finance and legal team celebrate too much, keep in mind the appeals process could stretch as long as three years, and even then, depending on what part of the case Intel might win, the company may get all or part of the fine it has already paid.
Still, today's news is significant, especially if you believe every long journey starts with a single motion.
The report, which still hasn't been released to the public, is a major slap to the EU, which has been aggressively, some say politically, pursuing successful US companies, notably Microsoft and Google .
In his report, Diamandouros says the commission failed to include comments from a senior Dell executive, who apparently said in 2006 that his company wasn't threatened into buying Intel chips, but instead thought microprocessors from rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. were “very poor.”
While it's only a single account, it speaks to the very core of the EU findings that PC makers were coerced into buying Intel chips for fear of losing valuable rebates if they turned to AMD instead.
Intel isn't commenting on any of this, but I could have sworn when I called over there earlier today I could hear corks popping and balloons inflating.
Kidding, but this kind of report could be a big win for Intel, and a big source of embarrassment for EU regulators who may have conspired in a back room some place to make sure it logged a victory.
Gee, isn't that what they accused Intel of?
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