It has all the elements of a Hollywood thriller -- a feud, a case of mistaken identity, gunslinging rhetoric, a billion-dollar booty.
Behind the scenes of the electronic industry's harshest legal slugfest are two rival CEOs, co-workers in Silicon Valley's early days, who today can hardly bear to be in the same room.
W.J. Sanders III of Advanced Micro Devices Inc., a nonstop salesman with a silver mane of hair, chauffeured to work in a Rolls-Royce and flown on weekends to his Southern California home in Bel Air, a stone's throw from the Reagans' home.
Andrew Grove of Intel Corp., a Hungarian immigrant who drives a Chevrolet, a Ph.D. engineer so compulsive that for years he required white-collar employees to sign a roster if they showed up after 8:05 a.m.
In supporting roles, dozens of attorneys, engineers, marketeers straining to recollect history.
At stake are AMD's rights to sell semiconductor chips developed by Intel.
In the mix-and-match world of electronics, customers have long expected that manufacturers could agree on standard designs that would make products from different firms interchangeable. That means firms often have to share their technology secrets.
So it was that Intel years ago blessed its neighbor AMD to mimic Intel parts.
That worked for a while -- until Intel changed its mind. Intel says AMD failed to live up to its side of a contract by bungling technologies it was supposed to develop. But in a stinging indictment of Intel's behavior, arbitrator J. Barton Phelps recently chastised Intel for "preaching good faith but practicing duplicity," by leading AMD and its customers into believing that AMD would soon be making Intel's most prized product, a complex microprocessor known as the 80386, when in fact it had no intention of transferring the technology.
In scolding tones, Phelps declared the action "entirely unbecoming to a company which occupies a position of the first magnitude in the industry." Its behavior, he wrote, was condoned by Intel's "most senior management," whose real intent was to keep a $1 billion monopoly on the 80386.
Just whether AMD will ultimately be permitted to make the chip won't be decided by Phelps until next year, but the companies are finding plenty of ways to keep the drama moving.
In a bizarre mix-up that has been dubbed the "Hilton Papers," a Silicon Valley hotel recently confused two guests, one an Intel employee and one an AMD employee, both named Mike Webb.
The hotel mistakenly forwarded a package intended for AMD's Webb to Intel's Webb. Inside, Intel said, was a logo for a new AMD product, the AM386 -- purportedly an unauthorized version of the Intel 80386.
Webb passed the package to Intel attorneys, who rushed to court and obtained a temporary order stopping AMD from using what they say is an Intel trademark. Sanders shot back that Intel's action in the case "plumbs a new depth of sleaze."