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Rambus threatens non-compliant Dramurai

Sue us and you lose, we win-win-win

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Rambus gave US financial analysts a good old ear and eye bashing yesterday in the shape of an 86 slide presentation outlining its strategy, its technology, the litigation it is engaged in, and its franchise model.

In the process, some facts, figures and interesting claims emerged, based on what Rambus described as a win-win-win situation. One slide, for example, asserted that $100 million of its revenue was equivalent to $1 billion of a factory-less semiconductor company.

The three ways shareholders could win were on an increase in memory performance, through decreases in price premiums on Rambus RIMMs, and on royalties on alternative memory technologies, for instance synchronous memories and double data rate (DDR) memories.

It is this last element that currently interests many industry watchers, considering the rampant litigation Rambus is engaged in. But there were slides to cover this situation too.

A series of slides headed "More words from our lawyers" summarises the current state of the litigation situation. Rambus "will not comment on non-public information, we will not comment on currently on-going negotiations, we will not comment on future litigation, if any", said Neil Steinberg, the VP of intellectual property.

However, Steinberg must have gone on then to comment, because the next slide says that the company holds fundamental patents on high bandwidth memory, memory subsystems and controllers, based on an application it made in April 1990. "The April 1990 application was visionary," and "predates core JEDEC SDRAM standards activity by about two years! [Rambus exclamation mark]".

There are obviously other visionary patents it has up its sleeves. It has filed 94 applications for patents between 1995 and September 2000, and has had 106 additional patents granted.

Rambus says that it is willing to license its IP for non compatible platforms on reasonable, fair and consistent terms. That may be the carrot but the stick is that "those companies that decide to litigate will pay higher royalty rates" and "Rambus may not license those companies that litigate and lose".

Its DRAM and DDR licensing programme, which seemed to mysteriously emerge from the depths around this time last year, is the point at issue here.

According to Rambus, it conducted "extensive prior art analyses" and also performed detailed and independent analyses of issues it may or may have not had with Jedec. It claims its SDR and DDR patent portfolio is "STRONG" [Rambus capitals].

So far, NEC, Oki, Toshiba and Hitachi have recognised its SDRAM and DDR patents. Those, says Rambus, quoting Dataquest figures, are three of the seven largest semi companies in the world, representing 20 per cent of worldwide SDRAM production.

Hyundai, formed from the merger of LG Semi and its own semi division, is one of the real giants, and it's interesting to us that, so far, Samsung hasn't licensed Rambus patents either.

The agreements Rambus has forged cover SDRAM, DDR and logic, with these agreements including an up-front licence fee and running royalties based on a quarterly basis. The royalty rates are greater than Rambus royalty rates.

Rambus then goes on to list the primary parties with which it is currently in dispute. Infineon, the spun off Siemens memory subsidiary, is due to go to trial in Germany on 22nd December over SDRAM and DDR memory products, while in the US a trial is anticipated in the next nine months.

"Micron and Hyundai assert nothing new," one slide trumpets. Rambus is "disappointed by Micron's complaint" because it has "far too many misleading and inaccurate assertions".

The Jedec issue is then dealt with. Rambus says it was a member of Jedec, a memory standards body, between 1992 and 1996. During that period, Rambus voted on a proposed standard at only one meeting and voted no to standardise the mode register for synchronous DRAM.

It held no applications which read on the proposed standard, and formally raised its own 1990 application at Jedec and to its members in 1993.

"The claims of patents in suit were filed nearly two years after Rambus left Jedec," and "Rambus had absolutely no involvement with Jedec's DDR standard".

Rambus' position is that both Micron and Hyundai have weak positions, and "rumors [sic] of invalidating prior art have proven to be unsubstantiated."

According to Rambus, antitrust allegations are common when the classical approaches to defending patent infringement actions lack merit. It is unclear on what evidence it bases this statement.

So what do we have. One slide details Rambus' current legal frenzy. In Germany, a trial with Micron is scheduled for February 16th next year, and Hyundai gets to see the beak the same month.

In France, seizure orders have been granted and executed, while a French court will consider infringement on SDRAM and DDR patents.

In Blighty, an infringement complaint was filed on the 12 September, and Rambus wants the British court "to set up an aggressive trial schedule".

In the US, a complaint against Hyundai was filed with the ITC on 11 September, and a trial is anticipated in six to eight months.

There are loads more of interesting slides, if you have enough memory in your machine to view them all at once. And you can see them by visiting this place. ®

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