The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that chip maker Advanced Micro Devices can seek to require its bigger rival, Intel Corp., to turn over U.S. documents for use in a European investigation.
By a 7-1 vote, the justices upheld a ruling that could require Intel, the world's largest microchip maker, to produce documents from an old antitrust case for use by the European Commission as it investigates AMD's complaint that Intel has abused its dominant market power in Europe.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the U.S. law at issue authorizes, but does not necessarily require, that a federal court provide assistance to AMD in getting the documents. Whether assistance is appropriate in this case is not yet resolved and will be decided by a federal judge, she said.
AMD has requested access to about 600,000 pages of Intel documents produced during a separate U.S. lawsuit against Intel by Intergraph Corp. so AMD can turn over new evidence to the European regulators.
The European Commission has had an open investigation into Intel's business practices for several years, but has not taken any enforcement actions. The probe was touched off by complaints from AMD in October 2000 that Intel used the threat of retribution to prevent personal computer makers from using AMD products.
AMD had asked a federal court in California to require Intel to produce the documents. A 40-year-old law allows U.S. courts to make documents available to foreign tribunals.
A federal judge rejected the request because the European Commission's ongoing investigation was not a "proceeding" as required by the law.
But a U.S. appeals court ruled for AMD. It said the proceeding was at a minimum, leading to quasi-judicial proceedings, and the case was sent back to the judge to decide the merits of AMD's request.
The Supreme Court affirmed that ruling and allowed the case to go forward.
"The Supreme Court has clearly confirmed our right to seek the discovery that we're looking for in support of our European Commission complaint," said AMD spokesman Michael Simonoff. An Intel spokesman could not immediately provide comment.
Intel had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that a private party like AMD should not be able to demand documents the foreign tribunal itself does not authorize.
The European Commission supported Intel, expressing concern that other companies could file complaints if they knew they could use U.S. law to gain access to competitors' documents. Lawyers for the commission said that would undermine its enforcement efforts.
But the U.S. Justice Department said the appeals court ruling should be affirmed. It said the federal judge should have the opportunity to resolve the dispute.
Ginsburg said, "We now hold that Congress authorized, but did not require, the district court to provide discovery aid to a complainant, such as AMD, during a European Commission investigation that will end in a dispositive ruling."
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented. He said he would order the complaint in the case dismissed and said the majority has extended law's scope beyond what Congress might reasonably have intended.
He said the court disregarded the European Commission's opinion. Breyer expressed concern that under the ruling, a foreign private citizen could ask a U.S. court for help to get information about a decision not to bring criminal charges, even if the foreign prosecutors were indifferent or unreceptive.