Rambus gets mixed ruling in Europe

Memory system designer Rambus Inc. received a mixed ruling from the European Patent Office (EPO) in its ongoing patent infringement case, the Los Altos, California, company, announced Wednesday.

The EPO, in Munich, affirmed the novelty and inventiveness of Rambus' first European patent EP 525 068, but also ruled that the patent is valid only if certain language is added to make it conform with the original 1990 filing, Rambus said in a statement.

While the company was pleased that the EPO affirmed the originality and inventiveness of its patent, Rambus said the ruling would likely complicate and delay legal proceedings in Europe.

Rambus has sued chip makers such as Infineon Technologies AG in Munich, Micron Technology Inc. of Boise, Idaho, and South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc. in both the U.S. and Europe claiming that its patented SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) technology is being violated by its competitors and that Rambus is owed royalties.

Rambus' European patent was challenged by Infineon, Micron and Hynix, and Wednesday's ruling by the EPO is the latest step in what is expected to be a long process, said Infineon spokesman Guenter Gaugler. "This initial ruling by the EPO is not legally binding. Until the final decision is written down, we are unable to comment on the details of the case, or on the details of the other two cases pending between Infineon and Rambus," Gaugler said.

Representatives at Rambus could not immediately be reached for comment. According to statement, however, Rambus plans to appeal the EPO ruling on the patent language, claiming the EPO has reversed its own previous decision.

Rambus and Infineon have a case pending in a court in Mannheim, Germany. In that case, Rambus is contending that Infineon's SDRAM and DDR (double data rate) SDRAM memory products infringe the Rambus patent EP 525 068.

Another ongoing lawsuit between Rambus and Infineon is being heard in the U.S. Last November the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered an injunction permanently barring Rambus from asserting certain of its U.S. patents against Infineon's SDRAM and DDR SDRAM products.

An appeal of that ruling was heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on June 3. The two U.S. District Courts hearing the Micron and Hynix cases have delayed their cases pending resolution of the Infineon appeals, Rambus said at the time.

Also in June, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) formally sought to prevent Rambus from enforcing its SDRAM patents against manufacturers when it filed a formal complaint against Rambus accusing the company of hampering competition in the SDRAM market by deceiving a technology standards organization. According to the FTC's complaint, between 1992 and 1995, Rambus took part in standards-setting activity regarding SDRAM technology with the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) Solid State Technology Association, but failed to disclose that it had also filed for patents to cover technologies involved in the standard. Concealing such facts is a violation of JEDEC's rules.

The ruling by the EPO has no effect on any of its pending litigation in the U.S., Rambus said.

The company has continually asserted that it is determined to aggressively pursue pending, as well as future, legal battles in an effort to protect its intellectual property and to also maintain its core business efforts to collect licensing revenue for its patents.

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