Greg Tang passed away suddenly on February 7, 2011. He will be greatly missed by everyone at Harvard Law School. In his memory, we are republishing his Digest Comment from last semester.
- The Digest Staff
Intel and the x86 Architecture: A Legal Perspective
Written by Greg Tang
Edited by Ian Wildgoose Brown
Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, owes its global leadership position to its x86 microprocessors. Intel and its main competitor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), command 80.4% and 11.5% of the microprocessor market, respectively. In other words, over 90% of the world’s computers have brains that only understand the x86 instruction set for translating software instructions into computer functioning. Consequently, most computer programs support, if not exclusively, x86 microprocessors. The fact that AMD is their sole surviving competitor in the x86 microprocessor industry is testament to the success of Intel’s aggressive business and legal tactics: the market for almost any other computer hardware component is certain to have a multitude of competitors from around the globe.
Throughout its history, Intel constantly has explored the outer frontiers of the high-tech industry’s legal landscape as it asserted its market dominance, particularly when threatened by competition, and repeatedly has been forced to adjust its strategy when the courts found that it pushed too far. By zealously pursuing this strategy against AMD, Intel has kept AMD at a distant second place in the microprocessor market, despite AMD often offering superior products at lower prices. But Intel occasionally gets in trouble for its liberal use of business and legal force towards AMD. In the last two years, Intel saw the end to several high-profile antitrust cases that it had been tangled up in for years. In May 2009, the European Commission fined Intel a record 1.06 billion Euros for abusing its dominant market position. On November 12, 2009, Intel settled all outstanding antitrust and patent cross-licensing disputes with rival AMD for $1.25 billion. And more recently in August 2010, Intel settled its antitrust case with the FTC by agreeing to several broad restrictions on its relationship with computer manufacturers and its competitors. But Intel’s legal strategy of “trial and error” stems from the company’s formative years, which coincided with the advent of the personal computer. (more…)