Intel has likely beaten back an enormous consumer antitrust class action brought on behalf of plaintiffs who bought computers with Intel microprocessors. On July 28 these indirect purchasers suffered a serious blow when the special master assigned to the case recommended against granting class certification. In a 112-page report, Vincent Poppiti concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims are too individualized for class treatment. According to Intel spokesperson Chuck Mulloy, under the court’s rules, the report and recommendation will become the court’s ruling unless the plaintiffs object within 21 days. Delaware federal district court judge Joseph Farnan Jr. is presiding over this case.

Intel’s legal team is led by Donald Pickett of Bingham McCutchen, and also includes lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Howrey.

The plaintiffs had sought certification of a nationwide class of persons or entities that had bought computers that contained an Intel Pentium 4 microprocessor, or any of Intel’s other x86 products. The plaintiffs alleged that Intel violated the Sherman Act and state unfair competition laws by, among other things, paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to computer makers to make sure that they exclusively bought its microprocessors.

In refusing to recommend class certification, Poppiti criticized the plaintiffs’ “long, winding road of contradictory positions.” He stated that original equipment makers like Dell had the discretion to use Intel’s payments for whatever purpose they wanted, including lowering the price at which they sold their computers. As a result, he concluded, these cases presented “countless issues of individualized fact not possibly capable of common proof.” (As you might recall, it was these Intel payments that got Dell into so much trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused the company of not properly accounting for this money. Dell agreed to settle those charges last week for $100 million.)

Pickett referred all inquiries to Intel. Intel’s Mulloy offered this statement: “This report and recommendation demonstrates the truth of what Intel has said over the past five years, since these cases were first filed: Intel operates in a highly competitive industry; Intel’s research and development have benefited consumers worldwide through lower prices and better products; and Intel has done nothing to harm consumers. Consumers, as well as computer manufacturers, have benefited from Intel’s price discounts.”

We contacted Guido Saveri, who represents the plaintiffs, but did not hear back.