Regulators for the European Commission are entitled to confidential documents sealed as part of a US lawsuit involving Intel, the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday. However, it instructed a lower court to decide whether it is appropriate to award those documents in support of a complaint filed by AMD.

The 7-1 decision upholds an appeals court ruling that documentation related to a patent lawsuit filed against Intel by Intergraph is fair game as part of an investigation by the Commission's Bureau of Competition prompted by AMD. The documents were sealed as part of a settlement between Intel and Intergraph.

AMD believes the documents contain evidence that will support its contention that Intel has unfairly used marketing programs in the European Union to stifle competition. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Competition revived a dormant investigation into Intel's marketing practices.

Under the relevant US law, individuals or corporations are required to provide testimony or documents "for use in a proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal upon the application of any interested person," according to a copy of the majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Supreme Court ruled that AMD is qualified to stand as an "interested person" under the law, and that the Commission has judicial powers, both of which were contested by Intel.

Intel had objected to AMD's request because it was not the subject of any formal litigation filed by AMD. Intel argued that if any party that complained about a company's business practices was entitled to confidential documents, practically anyone could obtain those documents. To that point, the court ruled that the district court is authorised to provide the documents, but is not required to do so. "Whether such assistance is appropriate in this case is a question yet unresolved," Ginsburg wrote.

Ginsburg was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy , David Souter and Clarence Thomas in ruling for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia filed a separate but concurring opinion, and Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did not participate in the decision.

"A court should not permit discovery where both of the following are true: A private person seeking discovery would not be entitled to that discovery under foreign law, and the discovery would not be available under domestic law in analogous circumstances," Breyer wrote in his opinion.

The case will now head back to the US District Court for the County of Santa Clara in San Jose, California, where the district court judge will hear arguments over whether it is appropriate to compel Intel to provide the documents, said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman. That hearing is expected to unfold over the next several weeks, he said.

An AMD spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.