Micron Sues Rambus (after all, it was their turn)

George Harrison wrote of the "Sue me - Sue You Blues." Rambus, Micron, Infineon and Samsung have been singing that one for years, and today Micron Technologies began a new verse, with its latest suit against Rambus. It all relates to a JEDEC standard setting initiative from the early 1990s, but it has reshaped standard setting.

Yet another lawsuit has been filed in the never-ending saga of Rambus and its one-time cohorts in SDRAM standard setting at JEDEC. This time around, its Micron Technologies that has sued Rambus, which only last month had filed yet another patent infringement suit against Micron. This isn’t the first time that Micron has sued Rambus, nor was last month’s suit by Rambus against Micron the first time that it had favored the Boise, Idaho chip maker with a complaint. And there have been others in between.

Of course, an equal number of suits have been filed by and between Rambus and a number of other chipmakers, as well, including Infineon, Hynix and Samsung. Not to mention antitrust suits that have been brought against the same chip vendors for alleged price fixing in the same standard setting process. Samsung, for example, reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice under which it agreed to pay $300 million, the second largest antitrust fine evey paid.

In fact, it would require a Groklaw-scale site to do justice to this Dickensian rat’s nest of litigation, all of which has been spawned by the long ago (1990) work of a single working group inside the JEDEC standards development organization. I’ve been covering the story for four years now, and if you do a search at this site of Rambus you’ll find 84 separate pages that address one aspect or another of the ongoing legal soap opera.

But back to the present. As reported in another story about the same suit, ccording to the story linked above, this time around Micron is alleging that Rambus:

…has engaged in a pattern of destruction of evidence, false testimony and other improper activities designed to mislead courts and Micron and to extract unjust patent licensing fees or damages from Micron.”

The compliant, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, includes allegations that Rambus intentionally concealed information through false testimony and other means regarding the ownership of key Rambus patents asserted against Micron in patent suits. It alleges that Rambus violated sections of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and Virginia conspiracy laws through a pattern of illegal conduct.

While this sounds startling, in fact these are old factual allegations (deception and document destruction) that have been repackaged in new legal charges (in this case, invoking the RICO Act) in order to try a new avenue of attack. Years ago, a court in the same district found in a case involving another JEDEC defendant (Infineon Technologies) that Rambus had destroyed documents, ruled against Rambus, and awarded millions of dollars of legal fees to Infineon.

Unfortunately for Infineon, a higher court ruled against it on other grounds, and sent the case back to the trail court judge � who promptly threw the case out again for document destruction. Rather than fight its way back up through the courts again, Rambus settled with Infineon for what most thought was a disappointing amount for Rambus (it also gave additional license rights to Infineon).

After settling with Infineon, Rambus turned its full attention against the other defendants, including Micron. Micron, of course, sought to use the same factual pattern that Infineon had used to defend itself. And so it goes, on and on.

The various Rambus cases have been significant in two respects, each of which arise from the fact that something like $5 billion in royalties is at stake. The first is that those that participate in standards development activities were dismayed when the courts failed to enforce the JEDEC intellectual property rights (IPR) policy and protect them from Rambus’ patent and royalty claims. All of which has led to a worldwide reexamination and tightening up of IPR policies. This is what I’ve been writing about for the last four years.

The second is that Rambus has been a hot stock for years, with its value rocketing and plummeting with each twist of the litigation screw. As a result, there have been multiple chat sites frequented by day traders and the like. Those that frequent these sites follow every word said in court and read press reports with the close attention of the ancients that read sheep entrails sheep to divine the future.

Let’s just say that those sites, ahem, “aren’t Groklaw.” As a result, you might find something that I wrote on this sometimes sordid netherworld to be of interest: it’s called RMBS and (Another) Dark Side of the Internet.


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