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June 01, 2009

Has Competition Held Intel Back?

Catherine New
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In mid-May the European Commission fined Intel $1.45 billion as part of an anti-trust lawsuit, ruling that the microchip company had skewed the competition — namely with rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) — by offering rebates to computer manufacturers in exchange for exclusive distribution contracts.

Supporters of the Commission’s decision hope that the ruling will make the microchip market more competitive — and thus more innovative. However, research from Professor Brett Gordon and Ronald Goettler from the University of Chicago based on data collected from the two chipmakers suggests that in the case of Intel, less competition, not more, would lead to more innovation.

In their research, which was recently featured in Ideas at Work, Gordon and Goettler found that the company would have innovated more quickly if it had not been in competition with AMD. How might this be possible?

First, as the world’s only microprocessor developer, Intel would have pricing power in the market, allowing it to charge more for its products. The increased profit margin would allow Intel to invest more money in research and development, which would result in a higher rate of innovation.

Second, as the sole microprocessor developer, Intel could potentially put itself out of business if it didn’t innovate often enough. If, for example, Intel sold a microprocessor today, it is unlikely the same customer would purchase another microprocessor unless the new processor was more technologically advanced. This provides another incentive for Intel to innovate rapidly.

Read the complete article about this research in Ideas at Work.

Photo credit: Uwe Hermann