Rambus ends Samsung licence deal, files suit over DDR2

Rambus versus the industry over everything says analyst

Rambus has broadened its legal battle against parts of the memory chip industry and is suing South Korea's Samsung Electronics, the world's number one DRAM (dynamic RAM) maker, Rambus says.

Rambus is launching two separate actions against Samsung, it says. The first adds Samsung's name to a patent infringement lawsuit concerning DDR2 (Double Data Rate 2) RAM and two related graphics memory technologies, GDDR2 and GDDR3, that Rambus launched against a number of other chips makers in January. Rambus is asserting infringement of 14 patents by Samsung.

In a separate suit, Rambus alleged that Samsung infringed on its patents for the SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) standard used in the vast majority of the world's PCs, as well as for DDR DRAM chips and controllers, Rambus said. This suit covers 11 patents.

Samsung had no comment on Rambus' action but said it would issue a statement, according to Park Sung Hae, a Samsung Electronics spokeswoman.

Rambus designs memory interfaces that link memory chips to the rest of the PC system. DDR2, GDDR2 and GDDR3 are speedier versions of SDRAM that allow memory chips to run more reliably at speeds above 400MHz, and are expected to become mainstream memory technologies later this year, or at the beginning of 2006.

In the January lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, Rambus accused Hynix Semiconductor, Nanya Technology, Inotera Memories and Infineon Technologies of infringing Rambus patents covering DDR and the two GDDR memory technologies. The suit is ongoing against all four companies except Infineon, which reached a settlement in March, saysLinda Ashmore, a spokeswoman for Rambus.

In that agreement, Infineon said it would pay Rambus US$5.85 million per quarter starting by November 15 through the same day in 2007 to licence existing and future Rambus patents, the companies says.

The action comes after talks between Samsung and Rambus broke down concerning an existing licence Samsung held for Rambus technology. The licence and talks about extending it to cover DDR2 had run into difficulties, according to John Danforth, senior vice president and general counsel at Rambus.

The problems caused Rambus to terminate the license with Samsung and begin legal action, he says.

"We have been very public over the last three quarters about Samsung not having a licence for DDR2 and we have been holding off action against both SDRAM and DDR. But there have been issues come up with DDR licences and we've extended our actions to cover DDR2," Danforth says.

In July, Rambus may also launch litigation concerning DDR2 technology against US company Micron Technology, Danforth says.

Rambus is leading a lone battle, according to one analyst.

"DDR2 is based on DDR, which is based on SDRAM. ... It's Rambus versus just about the whole industry covering all technologies," says Kim Soo-Kyoum, programme director for semiconductor research at market research company IDC.

Samsung is the world's largest DRAM vendor and had a 31.5% market share of the global market at the end of June, Kim says. Micron was number two with 15.8%, while South Korea's Hynix was third with 15.6%, he said.

Tuesday's actions do not affect Samsung's role as a licensee of RDRAM (Rambus DRAM) and XDR (extreme data rate) DRAM memory types, Rambus says.

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