Rambus loses $4 billion antitrust lawsuit against Micron, Hynix

By on November 17, 2011, 6:30 PM

Rambus was dealt a major defeat on Wednesday as a San Francisco jury rejected its claims in a $4 billion antitrust lawsuit against Micron Technology and Hynix Semiconductor. The IP licensing company, which has become widely known for its litigious ways, lost more than 60% of its market value following the ruling amid investors' fears that the company wouldn't be able to sustain its business model.

The case revolved around allegations that Micron, Hynix and others had engaged in price-fixing to keep Rambus' RDRAM memory technology from gaining widespread adoption.

Intel briefly used the technology with the Pentium III and 820 chipset, as well as with the Pentium 4 and 850 chipset, but the partnership didn't evolve as hoped. According to Rambus, Micron and Hynix conspired to ensure that Rambus memory would be more expensive, and thus a less attractive option to OEMs. However, the defendants maintained that it was "design flaws, higher manufacturing costs and other drawbacks associated with RDRAM along with Rambus' business practices" that prevented RDRAM from succeeding.

The court found that Micron and Hynix were not guilty of price fixing or anticompetitive behavior, in a 9 to 3 vote. Rambus CEO Harold Hughes said in an e-mailed statement: "We do not agree with several rulings that affected how this case was presented to the jury and we are reviewing our options for appeal."

This is not the first major defeat for the Silicon Valley semiconductor designer this year. Back in September the U.S. Patent and Trademark office declared that two of Rambus' patents -- known as the Barth I patents -- were invalid, with a decision on the third patent still pending. The company had used these particular patents to win memory-related lawsuits against Nvidia, HP and other companies.

In 2009 the company got about 96% of its $113 million in revenue from patent licensing royalties, and in January 2010 it reached a milestone settlement with Samsung for around $900 million. Following yesterday's nosedive the company's stock price has bounced back more than 20% to $8.78 as of this writing.

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