WASHINGTON — (BUSINESS WIRE) — May 13, 2009 — The European Commission has imposed a fine of $1.45 billion (1.06 billion euros) on Intel Corporation for violating EC Treaty antitrust rules on the abuse of a dominant market position (Article 82) by engaging in illegal anticompetitive practices to exclude competitors from the market for computer chips called x86 central processing units (CPUs). The Commission has ordered Intel to cease the illegal practices immediately to the extent that they are still ongoing.
Throughout the period October 2002-December 2007, Intel had a dominant position in the worldwide x86 CPU market (at least 70% market share). The Commission found that Intel engaged in two specific forms of illegal practice. First, Intel gave wholly or partially hidden rebates to computer manufacturers on condition that they bought all, or almost all, their x86 CPUs from Intel. Intel also made direct payments to a major retailer on condition it stock only computers with Intel x86 CPUs. Such rebates and payments effectively prevented customers - and ultimately consumers - from choosing alternative products.
Second, Intel made direct payments to computer manufacturers to halt or delay the launch of specific products containing competitors’ x86 CPUs and to limit the sales channels available to these products. The Commission found that these practices constituted abuses of Intel’s dominant position on the x86 CPU market that harmed consumers throughout the EEA. By undermining its competitors’ ability to compete on the merits of their products, Intel’s actions undermined competition and innovation. The Commission will actively monitor Intel’s compliance with this decision. The world market for x86 CPUs is currently worth approximately 22 billion euros (US$ 30 billion) per year, with Europe accounting for approximately 30% of that.
"Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years," said Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. "Such a serious and sustained violation of the EU's antitrust rules cannot be tolerated."
The computer manufacturers concerned by Intel's conduct in the Commission’s decision are: Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and NEC. The retailer concerned is Media Saturn Holding, owner of the Media-Markt chain.
Conditional rebates and payments
Intel awarded major computer manufacturers rebates on condition that they purchased all or almost all of their supplies, at least in certain defined segments, from Intel:
Furthermore, Intel made payments to major retailer Media Saturn Holding from October 2002 to December 2007 on condition that it exclusively sold Intel-based PCs in all countries in which Media Saturn Holding is active.
Certain rebates can lead to lower prices for consumers. However, where a company is in a dominant position on a market, rebates that are conditional on buying less of a rival's products, or not buying them at all, are abusive according to settled case-law of the Community Courts unless the dominant company can put forward specific reasons to justify their application in the individual case.
In its decision, the Commission does not object to rebates in themselves but to the conditions Intel attached to those rebates. Because computer manufacturers are dependent on Intel for a majority of their x86 CPU supplies, only a limited part of a computer manufacturer's x86 CPU requirements is open to competition at any given time.
Intel structured its pricing policy to ensure that a computer manufacturer which opted to buy AMD CPUs for that part of its needs that was open to competition would consequently lose the rebate (or a large part of it) that Intel provided for the much greater part of its needs for which the computer manufacturer had no choice but to buy from Intel. The computer manufacturer would therefore have to pay Intel a higher price for each of the units supplied for which the computer manufacturer had no alternative but to buy from Intel. In other words, should a computer manufacturer fail to purchase virtually all its x86 CPU requirements from Intel, it would forego the possibility of obtaining a significant rebate on any of its very high volumes of Intel purchases.
Moreover, in order to be able to compete with the Intel rebates, for the part of the computer manufacturers' supplies that was up for grabs, a competitor that was just as efficient as Intel would have had to offer a price for its CPUs lower than its costs of producing those CPUs, even if the average price of its CPUs was lower than that of Intel.
For example, rival chip manufacturer AMD offered one million free CPUs to one particular computer manufacturer. If the computer manufacturer had accepted all of these, it would have lost Intel's rebate on its many millions of remaining CPU purchases, and would have been worse off overall simply for having accepted this highly competitive offer. In the end, the computer manufacturer took only 160,000 CPUs for free.