updated 4/8/2004 10:39:27 AM ET 2004-04-08T14:39:27

Japan’s Fair Trade Commission raided offices of Intel Corp. on Thursday on suspicion the world’s semiconductor leader pressured personal computer manufacturers to spurn competitors’ products, a commission official said.

Fair trade authorities suspect that Intel improperly urged clients not to include central processing units — the key chips that do computers’ thinking — manufactured by Advanced Micro Devices and other companies, said Masaru Matsuo, a manager at the Fair Trade Commission.

The raid covered three Intel locations across Japan, including the company’s Tokyo headquarters, and comes exactly six weeks after the commission raided offices of Microsoft Corp. in a probe of alleged anti-competitive practices by the world’s most powerful software company.

Intel said it was cooperating with the probe.

“We did get visits from the Japanese FTC, and, as is our normal practice, we attempt to the best of our ability to cooperate with authorities as they conduct investigations of this nature,” said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman based at Intel headquarters in Santa, Clara, Calif.

The fair trade agency spokesman, Matsuo, declined to specify what exactly investigators were after, and Mulloy said he did not have enough information to comment further.

“We’re not clear on exactly what they were looking for, but we’re attempting to both understand that and also understand the nature of the complaint,” Mulloy said.

Intel microprocessors power about 80 percent of personal computers worldwide, and the company pays PC makers to include “Intel Inside” branding on their machines.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission closed a three-year investigation into Intel’s business practices in September 2000 without taking any action. A year later, European competition officials confirmed they were investigating allegations that Intel abused its position as the world’s leading chip maker. The investigation was prompted in part by a complaint by rival AMD.

Some 85 percent of all PCs shipped in Japan were embedded with Intel chips in the last quarter of 2003, according to IDC, a high-technology market analysis company. AMD followed with 12 percent.

On Feb. 26, the Japanese fair trade agency raided Microsoft offices in Tokyo over a clause in the company’s contracts with hardware companies that essentially barred Japanese companies that license Windows operating systems from any legal action against Microsoft over patent violations, commission and Microsoft officials have said.

Microsoft has denied any wrongdoing. But shortly after the commission’s raid, the company said it had decided to delete the clause in future contracts — and had already told the manufacturers.

Tokyo has lately grown somewhat wary of Microsoft’s might, joining South Korea and China in endorsing the use of open-source software such as Linux not only in government but also in the private sector.

It was not immediately clear if similar objections are harbored about Intel.

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