Paul Ottelini: human rights victim, waterboarded and subjected to rendition. Intel's CEO is probably languishing in a dank prison in Egypt or maybe Kazakhstan. They've attached electrodes to his fingers and made him stand on a box for hours on end while female guards laughed at his genitals.
Oh, wait. That didn't happen. The European Union is using an ordinary legal proceeding to punish Ottelini's company for its allegedly monopolistic stifling of competition in the microprocessor market. That's a human rights violation? Intel says so and is using that novel -- and frankly outrageous -- stratagem as a lever to wiggle out from under a $1.45 billion fine levied by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.
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Unlike the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, the Europeans have been quick to crack down on monopolies or near-monopolies like Microsoft and Intel. Can you imagine a U.S. official saying something like "Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years"? Well, Neelie Kroes, the EU's top antitrust regulator, did say it, adding, "If we smell that there is something rotten in the state, we act."
According to the EU, Intel crossed the line between legitimate, tough-minded competition and monopolistic bullying by threatening to withdraw volume discounts to computer makers, including Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and NEC, that also bought microprocessors from rival AMD. Intel also paid manufacturers to delay the launch of AMD-based computers and paid a retailer, Media Saturn Holding, to sell only Intel-based machines, the EU said. (Media Saturn operates the Media Markt chain in Germany.)
Violating Intel's rights?
Intel has consistently denied the EU's charges, as well as somewhat similar ones levied by South Korea, Japan, and the United States. That's to be expected. But with prospects on appeal not looking great, the company has challenged the legitimacy of the EU process, likening the commission to a kangaroo court and raising the spectre of human rights violation.