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N.Y. files antitrust lawsuit against Intel

In May, the European Commission fined the company $1.45 billion for alleged antitrust violations. Intel is appealing. Regulators in Japan found four years ago that the chipmaker had violated the country's antitrust laws, as did South Korean regulators last year. AMD is also suing Intel in a four-year-old case set to go to trial in Delaware in March.

In the United States, the FTC has been investigating Intel since mid-2008 but has yet to take action. Observers said Wednesday that that could change.

"The FTC is likely to file a suit in a couple of weeks," said Joshua Wright, a law professor at George Mason University who was an antitrust attorney in the FTC's bureau of competition until last year. "The New York suit puts pressure on the FTC not to get pegged as a regulator asleep behind the wheel."

An FTC spokesman said the investigation is continuing but declined to comment further.

'A notoriously gray area'

The Obama administration has promised to be tougher than its predecessor on anti-competitive practices in the tech industry. It has launched reviews of Apple, Google and IBM on separate matters.

Christine A. Varney, President Obama's pick to run the antitrust division of the Justice Department, has been an attorney in the high-tech industry and in recent speeches has urged that it be scrutinized more closely as that industry rapidly changes, affecting the overall economy.

Antitrust experts say the case may not be easy for Cuomo to win.

"This is a notoriously gray area in U.S. antitrust law," said Scott Hemphill, professor of antitrust law at Columbia University. While the allegations made by the European Commission and Cuomo's office are similar, the laws on each side of the Atlantic are not, with the U.S. requiring a "more rigorous showing of consumer harm," Wright said.

"The essence of the allegations in the E.U. case and the New York case is that Intel's lower prices might benefit consumers today but will eventually lead to the exclusion of AMD from the marketplace and ultimately result in higher prices for consumers," he said.

The lawsuit was cheered by some consumer advocates, who say they hope that public sentiment and the new administration will bring about tougher scrutiny of monopolistic behavior.

"It does seem to me to be indicative of a new attitude in antitrust enforcement that is a welcome development," said John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog. "It's clearly the case that technology companies for too long have not had enough close scrutiny."

Kang and staff writer Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report from Washington.

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