Over a dozen years of litigation finally comes to end
There's been no love lost between Rambus and Micron over the years. The two have been mired in litigation since 1990, which is when Rambus first sought license fees and threatened infringement lawsuits against memory makers who turned to the popular SDRAM standard over its own proprietary RDRAM spec. Rambus contended that its patents and inventions also applied to SDRAM, but as far as things are concerned with Micron, it's now a moot point.
Rambus, a memory technology licensing company, announced today it has signed a patent license agreement with GPU maker Nvidia that will be valid for the next years. As part of the five-year deal, the two sides agreed to settle all outstanding claims against each other, ending what had become a bitter and stretched out legal dispute over various patent innovations.
Before smartphone patents took over the spotlight, everyone’s favorite patent troll was Rambus. The technology licensing firm has been using the so-called Barth patents for years to sue tech companies and extract licensing fees as a settlement. After invalidating two of the three Barth patents earlier this year, the U.S. Patent Office has now invalidated the third as well.
Shares of Rambus stock rallied on Thursday after the technology licensing company announced it signed a patent licensing deal with Broadcom, which manufacturers networking and communication integrated circuits for data, voice, and video applications. The agreement absolves Broadcom from any and all previous patent claims made by Rambus.
Investors who were looking to score an easy buck by grabbing gobs of Rambus stock in hopes that it would win a $3.95 billion jury trial are now looking for other ways to beef up their bank accounts. Rambus failed to convince nine out of 12 jurors that Micron and Hynix conspired against the company by fixing prices of DRAM chips, essentially driving a wedge between Rambus and Intel in collaborating on RDRAM. Adding insult to injury, Rambus stock took a nosedive after news broke that it had lost the trial by a 9-3 vote.
Rambus found itself on the hot seat when a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court drilled into the company for destroying documents that could have weakened its patent infringement case against Nvidia. Rambus admitted to shredding documents, but chalked it up to business as usual. Furthermore, an attorney for Rambus said they provided all the documents that were requested of them. That's when Judge Kathleen O'Malley, one of three presiding over the case, tore into Rambus.
Usually when Rambus makes headlines, it's because the company is suing someone over an alleged patent violation, but that isn't the case today. Rambus is in the news because the company claims it made several breakthroughs in differential memory signaling, pushing SoC-to-memory interfaces to a groundbreaking 20Gb/s. This, Rambus says, can extend single-ended memory signaling to 12.8Gb/s.
"We have paved multiple paths for the industry by providing solutions that extend single-ended signaling beyond today's limits and developing the means for a seamless transition to differential signaling," said Sharon Hold, senior vice president and general manager of the Semiconductor Business Group at Rambus. "By advancing data rates in an extremely power-efficient way, and enabling compatibility to current industry-standard memories, we have removed the technical and business barriers for customers to achieve unprecedented capabilities in their products."
Hit the jump to find out what this means for you, Joe Consumer.
Technology licensing firm Rambus has gone to the International Trade Commission (ITC) to file a complaint asking for a very simple, even humble thing. They want the ITC to block the import and sale of any product infringing on its semiconductor patents. Sound reasonable? Well, it turns out that covers products from Broadcom, Freescale, NVIDIA, and more. As for the types of products Rambus thinks are infringing, that would be "personal computers, workstations, servers, routers, mobile phones and other handheld devices, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, motherboards, plug-in cards, hard drives and modems." In case you haven't noticed, that's just about everything that makes us happy around here.
Rambus has been involved in a number of long running patent disputes with the likes of Nvidia. After trying in vain to work out licensing deals with everyone that's ever gone near a semiconductor, Rambus felt only legal action would get their point across. That's probably the real goal of this filing with the ITC. It is supremely unlikely that the commission would see fit to ban the sale of all these items. ITC complaints are a regular part of patent disputes, although they are not usually this expansive.
There is at least some validity to Rambus' claims. They won a partial victory over Nvidia last summer. But they do have quite the reputation at a patent troll these days. Should the world's technology companies just pay off Rambus, or is this just a lot of bluster?
The US International Trade Commission has issued a notice of final determination in the patent infringement action brought by Rambus against Nvidia and other respondents, the technology licensing company, often accused of being a patent troll, announced in a press release. The ITC found Nvidia and some of its customers (co-respondents in the case) guilty of infringing three Rambus patents, affirming an earlier decision by an ITC administrative law judge, albeit with some modification.
The ITC has notified Rambus of its intent to issue a Limited Exclusion Order prohibiting the importation of infringing products into the United States; the list includes Nvidia’s GeForce, Quadro, nForce, Tesla and Tegra product families. The sale of infringing products previously imported by the respondents will also be banned.
However, the respondents can continue to import and sell the affected products during a 60-day Presidential review period by posting a bond equaling “2.65% of the entered value of the subject imports.” According to a Bloomberg report, Nvidia will be taking advantage of a licensing arrangement Rambus reached with the European Commission “to continue our business under the terms of that license and prevent the enforcement of any exclusion order.” Last year, Rambus settled an antitrust case in Europe by agreeing to cap memory chip royalties at 40 cents per unit.
"We are extremely pleased with the ITC's decision to issue a Limited Exclusion Order, signaling the strength of our innovation efforts beyond the Farmwald-Horowitz patents of our founders. The value of our patented inventions has been recognized by our current licensees, and we will continue our efforts to license others,” said Thomas Lavelle, senior vice president and general counsel at Rambus.
in basketball, a shooter sometimes gets into a 'zone,' a mental state where everything's going for them and they just can't miss a shot. This is exactly the place Rambus finds itself in, only in a different kind of court, and a different game altogether. The latest opponent to go down against Rambus is Nvidia, who a judge ruled was guilty of violating three patents belonging to Rambus.
"We are pleased with the initial determination from the ITC finding two patents invalid but disappointed about its ruling on the other three patents," David Shannon, Nvidia's executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "All five of the patents continue to be subject to re-examination proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office, in which the Office has consistently found the asserted claims of these patents to be invalid. We will now take the patents before the full commission for a final decision on whether any of these patents are valid, enforceable, and infringed."
While it remains to be seen if the verdict will stick and, if it does, what the patents will be worth, the legal momentum has clearly shifted in Rambus' favor. Less than a week ago, the company came to a $900 million settlement agreement with Samsung, in which Samsung will pay $200 million right away, and the remainder over the course of five years.