Rambus Loses Major Antitrust Case Against Hynix & Micronby Ryan Smith on November 16, 2011 11:38 PM EST
There are few companies in the tech world as infamous as Rambus, an IP-only RAM development firm. For the better part of 10 years now they have been engaged in court cases with virtually every RAM and x86 chipset manufacturer around over the violation of their patents. Through a long series of events SDRAM did end up implementing RAMBUS technologies, and the American courts have generally upheld the view that in spite of everything that happened while Rambus was a member of the JEDEC trade group that their patents and claims against other manufacturers for infringement are legitimate. At this point most companies using SDRAM have settled with Rambus on these matters.
Since then Rambus has moved on to a new round of lawsuits, focusing on the aftermath of Rambus’s disastrous attempt to get RDRAM adopted as the standard RAM technology for computers. Rambus has long held that they did not fail for market reasons, but rather because of collusion and widespread price fixing by RAM manufacturers, who purposely wanted to drive Rambus out of the market in favor of their SDRAM businesses. The price fixing issue was investigated by the Department of Justice – who found the RAM manufacturers guilty – which in turn Rambus is using in their suits as further proof of collusion against Rambus.
The biggest of these suits was filed in 2004 against the quartet of Samsung, Infineon, Hynix, and Micron. In 2005 Infineon settled with Rambus for $150 million while in 2010 Samsung settled with Rambus for $900 million, leaving just Hynix and Micron to defend. That suit finally went to court in 2011, with Rambus claiming that collusion resulted in them losing $4 billion in sales, which as a result of California’s treble damage policy potentially put Hynix and Micron on the line for just shy of $12 billion in damages.
Today a verdict was finally announced in the case, and it was against Rambus. A 12 member jury found in a 9-3 vote that Hynix and Micron did not conspire against Rambus, effectively refuting the idea that RAM manufacturers were responsible for Rambus’s market failure. As Rambus’s business relies primarily on litigation – their own RAM designs bring in relatively little due to the limited use of RDRAM and XDR – this is a significant blow for the company.
Rambus can of course file an appeal, as they have done in the past when they’ve lost cases, but the consensus is that Rambus is extremely unlikely to win such an appeal. If that’s the case this could mean that this is the beginning of a significant shift in business practices for Rambus, as while they have other outstanding cases – most notably against NVIDIA – the anti-trust suit was the largest and most important of them. Not surprising their stock also took a heavy hit as a result, as it ended the day down 60%. Rambus winning the anti-trust suit had long been factored into the stock price, so the loss significantly reduced the perceived value of the company.