Print 51 comment(s) - last by TIG.. on Jul 18 at 9:03 PM

If the major DRAM manufacturers fixed prices from 1998 to 2002, they're about to pay for it

A saga that has been cumulating for the last eight years is about to take another major step.  Seven of the major eight DRAM manufacturers will face a major antitrust complaint filing tomorrow lead by Attorney General Bill Lockyer.  Lockyer's filing for the State of California will be followed by additional suits in thirty-three more states shortly after.

The complaint claims that between 1998 and 2002 seven manufactures colluded to "fix DRAM chip prices, artificially restrain supply, allocate among themselves the production of DRAM chips and markets for the chips, and rig bids for DRAM chip contracts."  When the complaints are filed tomorrow, July 14, the following companies will be named:

  • Elpida Memory (Japan)
  • Hynix Semiconductor (South Korea)
  • Infineon Technologies AG (Germany)
  • Micron Technology (USA)
  • Mosel Vitelic (Taiwan)
  • Nanya Technology Corp. (Taiwan)
  • NEC Electronics America (USA)

Interestingly enough, the world's largest DRAM manufacturer, Samsung, is not listed in the claim.  Samsung had a DRAM market share of roughly 30% at the time and has been found guilty of price fixing during that same period.  In March of 2004, the FTC dropped an antitrust case against Rambus, to which Rambus turned around and sued Infineon, Hynix and Micron for artificially decreasing the price of DRAM to hurt the proliferation of RDRAM. Samsung, Rambus' major producer of RDRAM at the time, was also absent from these accusations.

The alleged collusion hurt the bottom line of several PC manufacturers at the time.  The suit to be filed by Lockyer names several manufactures, including Apple, Compaq, Dell, Gateway and IBM.

An excerpt from one of the claims reads "The manufacturers did not limit this pricing coordination to isolated or occasional conversations. On the contrary, during a roughly four-year period, there were frequent pricing communications among the conspiring manufacturers, exchanges that intensified in the days immediately preceding the dates on which they submitted bids to supply DRAM to the (computer makers), their largest and most important customers."

The industry certainly hasn't been without its share of shakeups.  In March of 2006, four Hynix executives were found guilty of price fixing, and are currently serving jail time.  Three Samsung executives were also found guilty, and Elpida was fined for price fixing too.

The suits seek retribution for the three year price fixing period, and will also impose penalties if the defendants are found guilty.

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By Watzman on 7/15/2006 8:27:17 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, it was 2 guys ... two brilliant, Nobel-prize class guys, EE Professors at Standford, but still just two private individual who started the firm and filed the initial patents, with no employees at all.

And they had a private attorney, not world-class, not a huge law firm, who drafted the early patents.

And the patent office examiner said (in his trial testimony in 2001) that it was the most complex patent, with the most new inventions, that he'd ever seen. And the patent office gets paid from the patent fees, one fee per patent, and therefore the patent office DEMANDED that it be broken up into many separate patents and applications (so that the patent office could get more fees, and divide the examination up among multiple examiners).

And the processing was complex and took many years (almost a decade .... which, however it may seem to us lay persons, is really not that unusual, many patent applications plod through the system for years and years).

But in any case, there are patents at issue now, many of them, that had nothing to do with and which did not derive from those initial patents. Like I said, about 900 patents applied for, about half actually issued so far. And you are really not making much of a point, just wasting electrons.

The simple fact here is that Rambus did apply for patents, in 1990, on technologies and techniques that were not used outside of RDRAM until SDRAM in about 1995, and without which no form of modern memory would function.

And Rambus has continued to innovate and to be about a full decade ahead of the computer industry ever since.

And nothing that you have said really refutes that.

But it was a tiny start-up firm, which in 1999 had less than 200 employees in a single office in California, that was (and still is) taking on an entire industry of multi-billion dollar multinational corporations, and if there's anything that's a surprise here it is that after almost having been "litigated to death" (which was in fact, literally, the plan), and after an illegal price-fixing and anti-trust conspiracy by an illegal cartel of these same firms, they have managed to survive, to remain profitable and they will probably end up winning this fight.

THAT is the surprise, because in these types of situations, in the real world, the little guy almost alway loses. Just ask Preston Tucker.

RE: Still babbling nonsense, just like your masters.
By TIG on 7/15/2006 9:10:51 PM , Rating: 2
Boo hoo, they were just a couple of guys and they didn't know nothin.

THey wrot a patent specification that they don't practice and don't license. They practice and license something completely different that they didn't disclose in 1990 or in any of the applications they subsequently made while their non-conforming product was being sold and while they were scheming to create the precption of infringement of other products that don't conform to their 1990 patent specification either.

Now the "bad guys stole our binky" story is supposed to make all the misinformation, lack of proper disclosure and false and misleading statements all better? Give it a rest. This isn't one of your fellow investors' clubhouses where everything that Rambus says and does is wonderful and true because your back pocket stands to be filled if it is.

Start addressing the specification of clock generation for devices within the Rambus system patent, try to tell me or anyone else that that's actually BRDRAM CRDRAM or DRDRAM clocks operate. Show that the patent specification doesn't leave zones where data can't meet timing requirements and had to be abandoned to provide commercial utility, much less technical merit.

Don't just give me your sob stories.

By Watzman on 7/15/2006 10:28:43 PM , Rating: 2
Whether they practice the patents or not is totally irrelevant. A patent holder is simply not required to practice the patent themselves in order to demand that others using it (and infringing the patents) license it and pay royalties on it. And, in fact, since Rambus doesn't actually make memory at all, of any kind (they are an IP firm only, not a manufacturing firm), by definition they don't practice any of their patents.

As to the rest, the courts simply disagree with you, as you very well know. There is simply not that much more that can be said.

The courts have held, and are holding more and more often as additional cases come to trial (and the direction on this, in multiple courts, in multiple cases all across the country, is very, very clear from pretrial proceedings even where the actual cases are still to be heard), that Rambus has patents that are valid, that are enforceable, and that are being infringed.

Those are the facts, as you know perfectly well, and frankly your opinion to the contrary is simply irrelevant.

Now I won't argue with you that my opinion is equally irrelevant, for that matter. Except for the point that my opinion happens to be the one that is prevailing in the courts, and I mean in multiple courts, all across the country, from sea to shining sea (literally: from Delaware to California). Oh say can you see, by the dawn's (or any other) light? No, I guess not. Sorry, but that's your problem.

By TIG on 7/16/2006 8:11:51 AM , Rating: 2
Once again, you make no argument related to the statements of these "two guys" patent specification.

There may be people who would think that standing up under oath in a court or in front of the USPTO and making statements that can readily be construed as material misrepresentations of fact isn't exactly the hallmark of "brilliant, Nobel-prize class" thinking. I understand that your investment portfolio would benefit greatly from the upholding of the rather absurdly broad claims allegedly deriving from the many continuations and divisional of the '898 system specification, but there are frankly quite a few incongruities that don't resolve favorably for the "inventors". And yes, there are many venues across the country and around the world where exactly the same issues are apparently being brought forward as part of the Rambus "'priviledged' litigation strategy", that might not be as good a thing as you seem to believe.

Now I understand that my unwillingness to suspend disbelief in order to turn one clock at the midpoint of early clock / late clock (or CTM / CFM if you prefer it that way) into two distinctly separate clocks separately derives and employed as RCLK and TCLK strikes directly at the heart of apple pie and the American Way. That's just my personal style as a rather hardbitten circuit hacker with no personal stake in any of these dingalings prevailing, whether they're "colluding cartels of infringers" or "litigating licensors". But if you think that, as a customer for computing hardware I'm interested in supporting the wholesale cooption of interface technology that preexisted the Rambus nonsense and in rather better implementation after billions of dollars and thousands of man hours have already been funded by the consumer to try to make their kludge-assed technological blind alley lead to some bright and shining future, you've got another think coming.

By TIG on 7/18/2006 9:03:45 PM , Rating: 2
DRAM arrays taken independant of any controller having been disingenuously been characterized as 'asynchronous' and ignoring of bank-interleaved arrays of burst transfer DRAMS which were also swept under the rug in the typical Rambus practice of the litigation process, the following ensued:

<<1290. When Dr. Horowitz began working on what was to become RDRAM he had extensive experience in asynchronous designs.>> McGuire, FTC ID

In fact, the asynchronous discipline that Horowitz was involved in and aware of was more a more technically specific discipline. This is partially evidenced in the following presentation:

Horowitz was involved and active in the development of asynchronous pipelines and would have every reason, as such, to have been aware of the work described in this paper:

"Transition Signalling
In transition signalling any transition, either rising or falling has the same meaning, as illustrated in Figure 2; either kind of transition is called an event. As indicated in the figure, and suggested by its name, transition signalling avoids distinctions between the two types of transition even though they may look quite different. In effect, all responses to transition signals are edge triggered, and are triggered on both rising and falling edges. Because transition signalling uses both rising and falling edges as trigger events, it may offer twice the speed potential of conventional clocking."

- Ivan E. Sutherland, "Micropiplines", Communications of the ACM, Vol. 32, No. 3, June 1989 - 1988 ACM Turing award lecture.

Also in this paper:

"Finally, memory systems obviously fit well into the micropipeline framework. One might design a dynamic random access memory (DRAM) part using a micropipeline.Such a part can provide at least a factor of two improvement in throughput over conventional DRAM parts."

By masher2 on 7/16/2006 5:31:50 PM , Rating: 2
> "the patent office gets paid from the patent fees, one fee per patent, and therefore the patent office DEMANDED that it be broken up into many separate patents and applications"

I have quite a few patents myself...and while your statement is corect, the motivation you ascribe to it is not. A patent must be as specific as possible, and relate, as much as possible, to only a single innovative technique or invention.

The USPTO isn't trying to pad its budget by breaking patents up. Its simply trying to do its job.

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki
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