Rambus names former ally Samsung in antitrust lawsuit

Relations continue to deteriorate between Rambus and Samsung as Samsung was added to an antitrust lawsuit filed by Rambus.

Rambus has added Samsung Electronics to its antitrust lawsuit against most of the DRAM industry, another development in the souring of relations between the two former partners.

Rambus' antitrust lawsuit, filed last May against Infineon Technologies, Hynix Semiconductor, Micron Technology and Siemens, alleges that those companies conspired about five years ago to keep the RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM) design from competing with their own SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) chips by underproducing the RDRAM chips and creating an undersupply that would keep prices high.

Infineon and Hynix have already pleaded guilty to corporate price-fixing charges as part of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Executives from Infineon and Micron have also entered guilty pleas and spent time in prison.

Rambus has since removed Infineon and Siemens from the antitrust case as part of a broader settlement of legal disputes between those companies. But Samsung, the world's largest DRAM manufacturer, has now been lumped in with the rest of the accused companies, Rambus said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.

The antitrust case is a separate legal battle from the long-running dispute over whether companies that make SDRAM chips are infringing upon patents held by Rambus. When the first patent infringement lawsuits were filed by Rambus in 2000, Infineon, Hynix, and Micron challenged the validity of Rambus' patents. But Samsung chose instead to sign a license to those patents, a huge boost for Rambus at the time.

The dispute is still ongoing between Rambus, Hynix and Micron. Rambus and Infineon agreed earlier this year to settle all outstanding litigation between the two companies, including the antitrust lawsuit, as part of a licensing agreement.

However, last week Rambus ended its DDR SDRAM licensing deal with Samsung after talks broke down regarding a license for DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory. Rambus then added Samsung to the list of companies it is suing for manufacturing DDR as well as DDR2 memory without a license. DDR2 and DDR memory are based on the original SDRAM standard.

Now Rambus is also accusing Samsung of participating in discussions designed in part to thwart the adoption of Rambus' own RDRAM standard. Samsung was named along with the other DRAM companies when the DOJ price-fixing investigation was first revealed, but it was not part of the initial antitrust lawsuit filed by Rambus in May 2004.

Rambus has recently been made aware of documents that Hynix and Micron gave to the DOJ during the investigation, the company said in the SEC filing. It did not specify what was contained in those documents, but it cited the documents as a reason for taking this step.

Rambus Senior Vice President and General Counsel John Danforth was traveling and unavailable to comment Wednesday afternoon, a Rambus spokeswoman said. But the company had a prepared statement regarding Samsung available for reporters.

"This is not an escalation or a trading of lawsuits between Rambus and Samsung - the two companies remain committed to the current XDR DRAM and RDRAM programs. Rambus reluctantly took this action in an effort to protect its inventions and promote fair competition in the marketplace," Danforth said in a statement. XDR (extreme data rate) DRAM is Rambus' newest memory technology.

A Samsung spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday's announcement.

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