Intel Has Always Played Rough

Opinion: If AMD has a case, it wouldn't be the first company to get the sharp end of Intel's business practices. Intel, isn't it time to back off?

For almost as long as Ive been in the industry, Ive watched Intel muscle both competitors and customers. I wasnt surprised to see AMD file suit and, though I havent seen the evidence, I tend toward AMDs side.

Intel has become the worlds largest semiconductor company based both on its innovations and its prodigious street-fighting skills.

Ive always been surprised that Microsoft seems to get beaten up by everyone while Intel manages to slide by. In terms of pounding both competitors and customers, Microsoft has nothing over Intel. At least if the rumors and allegations are to be believed.

Back when I was still in Dallas, working for InfoWorld, there was a company called Cyrix that made math co-processor chips in competition with Intel. This was possible because Intel had signed an agreement with Texas Instruments that allowed TI to manufacture the chips for Cyrix.

At the time, I read the patent cross-licensing contracts, which Intel not only signed but later extended. What TI and Cyrix were doing was obviously within the agreement, but Intel sued nonetheless. Cyrix kept winning in court, but Intel kept Cyrix in court for the better part of a decade. That kept Cyrix small, which I think was the point of the whole exercise for Intel.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead a commentary here from Microsoft Watchs Mary Jo Foley on what Intel should learn from Microsofts experience with monopoly accusations.

Heres a great Wikipedia article that tells the Cyrix story, including the companys eventual sale to National Semiconductor and, eventually, to Via Technologies.

Intel sued not because it had a case, but because it was a big company and Cyrix was a tiny one, and Cyrix was in the way. Intel used a lawsuit to accomplish what it was having trouble accomplishing in the marketplace … the same claim Intel is now making against AMD.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about AMDs antitrust lawsuit against Intel.

This street-fighter mentality is, I think, an outgrowth of Andy Groves paranoid Intel culture. Theres no question: This team had sharp elbows. How much the elbows contributed to Intels success is hard to say, but they were doubtless an advantage, especially as Intel grew larger and had more to elbow with.

While there have been other allegations against Intel over the years, its the Cyrix case —the story I am most familiar with, since I covered it for InfoWorld—that shaped my opinion of Intels competitive nature. At one point, I even got then Intel exec David House to admit the company had used lawsuits as a competitive weapon.

So, I dont have a terrible lot of sympathy for Intel, and my hunch is that AMD has cause to file suit.

That doesnt, however, change the respect I have for Intels tremendous technological and business contributions. Intel is a great company with what is generally an above-average corporate culture. But it also has a dark side, which I think it has used even more effectively than Microsoft to fight off competitors.

My hope is that Intel will come away from this new legal battle a wiser company, much as Microsoft has shown itself to be of late. The time for the sort of behavior that got these two giants into trouble, if there ever was one, is long past. Its time for Intel to join Microsoft in the circle of gracious winners.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at [email protected]