WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is preparing to propose a major relaxation of antitrust laws with the goal of permitting companies such as Motorola, American Telephone & Telegraph Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. to work together to produce high-technology equipment, beginning with high-definition television sets.
That technology, which provides a sharper picture, comparable in clarity to motion pictures, is regarded as the next generation of television. It is expected to have an impact in many other areas also, including computers and telecommunications.
Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, who oversees an administration-wide project to define a policy for high-definition television, said Tuesday: ``I think there's a pretty good probability of changing the antitrust laws. I think Congress is ready to do it.''
He said high-definition television would probably be the first area in which the proposed waiver would have an effect.
Among the various government agencies and departments with an interest in the issue, there is more of a consensus than a debate.
The Defense and Justice departments have expressed support for the principle of easing antitrust laws.
President Bush has not taken a public stand on the antitrust issue, but he tpically accepts the recommendations of the officials he asks to direct major projects. But typically, too, he makes minor changes in the recommendations he receives.
The change in the law would take the form of new legislation that would give companies immunity from the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1913 and other statutes.
Five years ago, Congress modified antitrust laws to allow companies to engage in joint research.
The 1984 law said companies that disclosed joint research ventures to the Justice Department would be assessed actual damages, not triple damages of antitrust law, if they were found to have engaged in monopolistic conspiracies.
Since then, copanies have set up more than 100 joint research ventures.
Expanding the antitrust waivers to permit joint production would mark a significant broadening of the exemption.
Mosbacher also said the administration was thinking of tying a reduction in the capital-gains tax for companies involved in high-definition television to a relaxation of the antitrust law.
He suggested that reducing the tax would give industry an additional incentive, beyond the antitrust law changes, to strengthen itself to compete in high-definition television.
``This may be the best place to start that,'' he said of the tax proposal. …