EU Antitrust Experts Seek Charges Against Intel, Source Says

European Commission staff have again asked the EU's antitrust chief for permission to prepare
charges against Intel, part of a long process that faces further hurdles, a source familiar with the case said.

The Commission, executive arm of the European Union, has been investigating Intel for six years to see whether the chipmaker acted unfairly to keep its dominance over rival Advanced Micro Devices .

The two companies make all the central processing unit chips at the heart of the world's 850 million personal computers.

AMD has contended that although its market share has risen, it has reached a plateau because Intel acted unfairly. It had no comment on the Reuters report.

Intel has strenuously denied the charges in general. Asked about the report, spokesman Chuck Mulloy said: "Intel has not been informed about any new developments in the EU investigation. We believe the investigation is continuing and we plan to continue to cooperate."

A spokesman for the EU executive noted only that "the Commission has an ongoing antitrust investigation into Intel".

The Commission has focused on whether Intel used illegal techniques -- in particular rebates to computer makers -- in the hope of containing AMD's market share at around 20%.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Wednesday that EU antitrust experts had recommended charges be brought.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes must now decide whether to continue to commit Commission resources to the case or drop it, the source said.

If Kroes gives her blessing, her staff can draw up new, formal charges known as a statement of objections (SO) which may take weeks or more likely months, the source said.

A new SO would be the staff's latest try. In October last year an earlier statement was shot down during an internal review known as a "devil's advocate" panel, several sources familiar with the case said. Critics of Intel had hoped for formal charges some time in 2006.

Such panels are an internal check designed to seek out weaknesses in an SO to help the staff beef up its arguments.

Any new SO will likely face another "devil's advocate" panel, the source said. But a second source expressed surprise that it would face another examination.

The new SO would also require a review by Kroes' chief economist and by the Commission's legal services unit, the first source said.

AMD has taken legal action around the world to get what it considers a fair hearing. It has sued Intel in the United States and taken action in Asia and South America.