Judge: Rambus destroyed documents related to patent lawsuit

Rambus officials say they will appeal a judge's ruling accusing them of destroying evidence in a DRAM patent case.

Rambus plans to appeal a decision by a Delaware judge who found that the company had destroyed documents related to patent lawsuits it has filed against other DRAM makers, ruling the patents unenforceable.

Judge Sue Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware ruled Friday that Rambus employees had destroyed documents and e-mail messages related to the company's DRAM marketing, patent and litigation strategies back in 1998 and 1999, when the company was looking at ways to get competitors to adopt its DRAM technologies or sue them for patent infringement.

Rambus and Micron have lawsuits against each other pending in the Delaware court, and Robinson ruled that 12 DRAM-related patents claimed by Rambus are unenforceable against Micron. Rambus set up a three-month e-mail retention policy and held two document "shred days" at a time when officials there should have known that patent litigation was likely, she ruled.

Rambus' bad faith was "clear and convincing," Robinson wrote in her decision. "The spoliation conduct was extensive, including within its scope the destruction of innumerable documents relating to all aspects of Rambus' business," the judge wrote. "Therefore, the court concludes that the appropriate sanction for the conduct of record is to declare the patents in suit unenforceable against Micron."

Rambus officials noted that a California judge presiding over a similar patent lawsuit ruled that Rambus did not destroy evidence. "We disagree profoundly with Judge Robinson's ruling, and we intend to contest it vigorously," Rambus President and CEO Harold Hughes said during a press conference.

The California patent case, which Rambus brought against Hynix, Micron, Nanya and Samsung, is still pending. There are millions of dollars at stake in the patent lawsuits.

Micron applauded Robinson's decision. "We believe that the decision is applicable to other pending cases, and we are reviewing the ruling to determine its potential impact," Rod Lewis, Micron's vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, said in a statement.

The Delaware patent case was originally filed by Micron against Rambus in August 2000. Rambus had developed and patented technology to improve the performance of DRAM, and the company was concerned that competitors were violating its patents when making their own DRAM products. Rambus attempted to get other companies to license its technology, but the company suffered a setback when Intel, formerly a Rambus customer, announced in October 1998 that it was investing US$500 million in Micron's DRAM efforts.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has also become involved in the Rambus patent claims. In 2002, the FTC brought an antitrust case against Rambus, accusing the company of engaging in anticompetitive behavior while deceiving a standards-setting body.

The FTC accused Rambus of getting standards-setting organization the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) to declare a standard for the memory used in PCs, servers, printers and cameras without admitting that it owned the patents to those technologies.

After a judge's ruling against the first FTC case, the agency in mid-2006 charged Rambus with engaging in an illegal monopoly for failing to disclose its DRAM patents to the standards group.

Last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the FTC's case against Rambus, but the FTC has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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