The Supreme Court stepped into a dispute between two high-tech competitors on Monday, agreeing to clarify when U.S. companies can be ordered to release confidential records to foreign regulators.
INTEL CORP. IS fighting a California appeals court ruling that may force it to release documents to the European Commission.
The commission has conducted a preliminary investigation of Intel, based on an antitrust complaint by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The competitor contends that Intel abused its position as the world’s leading computer-chip maker to keep other companies from winning market share in Europe.
Intel is backed in its appeal by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers. They argue that the appeals court decision gives foreign companies an opportunity to seek supersensitive information about policies and strategies of U.S. competitors.
The Bush administration also asked the Supreme Court to review the law that allows federal courts to help people obtain testimony or information for use in foreign or international tribunals. Government lawyer Paul Clement said the administration does not believe Intel should have to turn over its documents.
Two years ago, Advanced Micro Devices asked a federal judge in California to help them get documents from Intel to give to the European Commission. The commission, a regulatory board which enforces EU antitrust law, had not sought the information and says it doesn’t want the records.
The judge refused to help in the company’s request for documents, which were part of another court case and kept private. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the court had the discretion to order the transfer of the records.
Seth Waxman, the Washington attorney for Intel, said in court filings that the decision allows any company to get information from “its closest commercial rivals simply by asking a foreign enforcement agency to investigate them.”
“It exposes individuals and businesses to costly fishing expeditions of rivals,” he said.
Advanced Micro Devices lawyer Patrick Lynch of Los Angeles said in a filing that the European Commission has limited resources and that the records sought in California will help with its investigation.
Lynch said the company wanted the Supreme Court to hear the appeal, in order to speed up the resolution of its 3-year-old complaint with European regulators.
One question for the court is whether companies can use U.S. courts to get information not available under the rules of foreign boards.
American companies that have overseas business can be investigated at any time by agencies in multiple countries, the National Association of Manufacturers told the court. But those agencies often have more limited rules for information gathering than what’s allowed in U.S. courts.
The European Commission also supports Intel in the case.
The case is Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 02-572.
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