South Korea closes flash memory antitrust investigation

South Korea's Fair Trade Commission found no evidence of international price fixing

South Korea's Fair Trade Commission has closed an antitrust investigation of the flash memory industry, concluding that there is no evidence of a pricing cartel.

The investigation had targeted four major international manufacturers of flash memory, two of them in Korea, one in Japan and one in the U.S., Korea's FTC said. While it didn't name the companies it investigated, it noted that the world's largest manufacturers of the chips are Samsung Electronics and Hynix in South Korea, Toshiba in Japan and SanDisk in the U.S.

The FTC found no evidence of price fixing at the international level, and limited evidence of domestic price fixing, it said in a statement released Wednesday.

Its investigation focused on prices for one type of memory, NAND flash, used in devices such as digital music players and digital cameras, and storage media such as memory cards and USB memory sticks. NAND memory is typically cheaper to manufacture than the other main flash technology, NOR, which can transfer data more quickly.

Antitrust investigators in other countries have also had their eyes on the flash memory industry, with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission taking a close look in 2007 at plans by Intel and ST Microelectronics to spin off their flash memory venture into a new company.

Memory manufacturers have struggled over the last few years, as a fall in demand for consumer electronics devices containing their products left them with a glut of chips and excess manufacturing capacity, driving memory prices down. While the makers of DRAM, the volatile memory used in PCs, were hardest hit, flash memory manufacturers were also affected.

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Peter Sayer

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