Nvidia, Microsoft and OpenAI facing antitrust probes, says report


US regulators are on the point of opening antitrust investigations into three giants of the artificial intelligence industry, Microsoft, Nvidia, and OpenAI, according to a report by The New York Times.

The three companies increasingly dominate the artificial intelligence market with their software and semiconductors, and regulators in the US and elsewhere have been taking a hard look at whether their activities qualify as anticompetitive.

Late last year, both the European Union (EU) and the UK were probing the relationship between Microsoft and OpenAI, although in April 2024, the EU’s merger watchdogs decided not to investigate Microsoft’s US$13 billion investment in OpenAI as a potential takeover.

The US Federal Trade Commission upped the ante in January of this year, issuing orders to five companies, including Microsoft and OpenAI, requiring them to provide information about their recent investments in generative AI companies and major cloud service providers. Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, and Anthropic, developer of the generative AI tool Claude, were also under the microscope.

Nvidia did not escape notice either. It said in its latest quarterly report, “Our position in markets relating to AI has led to increased interest in our business from regulators worldwide.” It cited requests for information about its business activities around AI from regulators in the EU, the UK, and China, specifically highlighting the French Competition Authority’s “collection of information”, and noted, “We expect to receive additional requests for information in the future.”

In a February 2024 interview in Harvard Law Today, FTC chair Lisa Khan said that that the reason for investigations such as these is not to stifle business growth, but to curtail illegal behavior. “We really want to make sure that the opportunity for competition and the potential for disruption is preserved, rather than this moment being co-opted by some of the existing dominant firms to double down on their dominance,” she said.

With that backdrop, the US Federal Trade Commission and the US Department of Justice have this week agreed to divide antitrust investigations into the roles played by Microsoft, OpenAI, and Nvidia in the AI industry between them, according to the report in The New York Times.

The agreement is expected to be finalized in coming days, the report said, citing unnamed sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about the deal.

They said that the FTC will lead the investigations into ChatGPT developer OpenAI, and into Microsoft, which has invested US$13 billion in OpenAI as well as investing in other AI companies including, most recently, its US$650 million payment and deal to hire most employees, including the company’s founders, from startup Inflection AI.

The DOJ will take point in the Nvidia investigation. Nvidia is the market leader in the production of semiconductors designed for use in AI computing, with an estimated share of the AI chip market used for training and deploying models of between 70% and 95%, according to various sources.

The FTC and Nvidia declined to comment on the report. Microsoft, the DOJ, and OpenAI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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