San Jose (CA) – In a ruling that could literally change the face of the dynamic memory industry, a jury has awarded Rambus $306.5 million in damages, bringing to a close its prolonged patent infringement suit against Hynix Semiconductor. Now, Rambus may find the ball in its own court with regard to two other patent infringement suits on the same technologies, against Samsung and Micron Technology.
The Hynix suit was actually a countersuit, filed after Hynix filed a complaint in August 2000, seeking to invalidate a suite of 15 Rambus patents relating to DDR, DDR2, and GDDR-type memory. Essentially, these patents collectively refer to the mechanisms by which synchronous memory devices can achieve double-data rates. Whether these patents are absolutely essential to any implementation of double-data rate memory has yet to be determined, but the jury verdict today apparently upheld several of Judge Ronald M. Whyte’s summary judgments in favor of Rambus.
For the last several years, the basis of Hynix’ defense was not that it didn’t infringe upon Rambus’ patents – the original Hynix complaint was, indeed, that those patents were invalid. Rather, Hynix maintained that several years ago, Rambus may have initiated a “document retention” program, or a euphemistic way of referring to how the company would retain – or dispose of – documents and e-mails related to company affairs. Presumably, such a program would have made it possible for Rambus to dispose of documents prior to their discovery by opposing counsel. The program was instituted, Hynix alleged, prior to Rambus’ decision to start suing its competitors, presumably as a new form of revenue enhancement. This is called the “unclean hands” defense.
Last January, Judge Whyte threw out Hynix’ claim, denying its motion for dismissal of the entire affair. “The court does not find dismissal to be an appropriate sanction,” the judge wrote, “because it does not find the application of the unclean hands doctrine to be warranted.” Further, Judge Whyte ruled that there was no evidence that any document retention program Rambus may have instituted, was done in bad faith. From there, things went downhill for Hynix.
Near the closing bell on Wall Street, trading value of Rambus shares jumped a colossal 13.5% on the news. Micron shares ended up basically unchanged, after having dipped but settling late in the afternoon, perhaps as traders foresaw a different kind of settling in Micron’s future.