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Nvidia licenses Rambus memory tech

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Graphics chip maker Nvidia has partially resolved its legal issues with lawsuit-happy Rambus by signing a patent agreement with the memory technology maker.

Rambus and Nvidia announced this morning that the patent licensing agreement covers SDR memory controllers as well as DDR, DDR2, DDR3, LPDDR, LPDDR2, GDDR2, GDDR3, GDDR4, and portions of GDDR5 memory controllers. This is a one-way patent agreement, with Rambus not picking up any of Nvidia's technology.

In an 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nvidia said it signed the deal yesterday - presumably right after reporting its financial results for its second quarter of fiscal 2011, ended 1 August. Nvidia did not mention a pending patent licensing agreement with Rambus on the call with Wall Street analysts. In that SEC filing, Nvidia says that the patent licenses are non-exclusive, non-transferable, worldwide permission to use Rambus memory tech. The 8K filing also says that the royalty cannot exceed $20 per unit. The agreement runs through 9 December, 2014, and Nvidia can terminate in on or after 12 August, 2011 with 30 days prior written notice.

Under the deal, Rambus gets a one per cent royalty rate per unit on the SDR memory controllers and a two per cent rate per unit on all of the other memory controllers. Nvidia said that its forecasts for revenues in the third fiscal quarter would be up between three and five per cent sequentially, and that its gross margin forecasts already had taken the impact of the royalty payments into account.

Oddly enough, the companies say that this agreement does not dismiss any pending litigation between Rambus and Nvidia. Rambus sued Nvidia in July 2008 for violating 17 of its memory controller patents in its chipset and GPU products. Rambus contended that it had been trying to get Nvidia to license its technology for six years without avail. In late July, the US International Trade Commission ruled in favor of Rambus in the legal spat. Rambus had appealed to the ITC in November 2008 to bar Nvidia's infringing products from entering the US, and last month, the ITC sided with Rambus on the matter (with some modifications). Nvidia is appealing the ruling.

Rambus settled a similar patent infringement lawsuit with memory maker Samsung Electronics in January of this year, collecting a tidy $900m. Rambus won a $379m settlement against Hynix Semiconductor, also a memory maker, in March 2009, which Hynix is appealing. Memory maker Micron Technology is also still tangled in lawsuits with Rambus as well. ®

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