An opaque yet intriguing court case drags on…
Two years after filing suit, the litigants suing chip makers Intel and Micron over rights to a cutting edge new memory technology are still awaiting for the trial to take place.
This week, they may finally get some clarity on next steps.
At stake, potentially, is a share of licensing rights to 3D XPoint (pronounced “cross point”): technology described by Intel and Micron in a joint July 2015 release as “the first new memory category since the introduction of NAND flash in 1989”.
(Just last week Intel’s Raja Koduri noted that the chipmaker was making strides in improving the technology, saying: “We have been working hard on this memory technology and have doubled the density… Our second-generation Optane SSD will move to PCIe gen 4 and our goal is to exceed 2X performance gain.”
(Both Intel and Micron are marketing memory products based on the technology: availability remains somewhat limited however, particular of Micron’s X100 SSD).
In recently updated court filings, a trial date was adjourned again and tentatively set for September 22, 2020: a “status conference” meanwhile will be held this Wednesday by a bankruptcy court in the eastern district of Michigan. This may, finally, result in some clarity for all parties over the complex litigation, detailed here.
The memory technology features innovations pioneered by prolific American inventor Stanford Ovshinksy, who earned 400 patents in the US and over 800 overseas.
These included (along with patents for flat-screen LCDs, hydrogen fuel cells, thin-film solar cells and more) and phase-change technology that lets materials — manipulated by a current — to change states from amorphous to crystalline; a reversible phenomena which is then used to record memory. (The states correspond to logic 0 and 1).
In July 2018 the Trust (ECDLT) representing Ovshinksy’s estate sued Micron, Intel and other associated parties, claiming royalties for 3D XPoint as well as rights of first refusal on stock in a company called Ovonyx: created in 1998 by Ovshinsky and Tyler Lowrey, former CTO at Micron, to commercialize phase change memory.
Ovshinsky’s ECD itself went bankrupt in 2012 after what one observer describes as “50 years of crazed, prolific invention”. (For more on the inventor’s life, businesses and myriad inventions, Computer Business Review highly recommends “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” – a 2018 biography by Lillian Hoddeson and Peter Garrett).
When ECD filed for bankruptcy, it began marketing its equity stake in Ovonyx, with Micron emerging as the winning bidder. ECDLT says it never forfeited the right to two key contractual protections: a right to 0.5% of Ovonyx’s revenues and rights of first refusal relating to Lowrey’s stock in Ovonyx and assets of Ovonyx.
Just 16 days after the liquidation trust filed suit in Michigan in July 2018, Micron and Intel publicly launched 3D XPoint. Three days after that, they made a controversial “series of transactions” that the ECDLT is also suing them for. Precisely what happened is unclear, owing to extensive redactions in the court filings.
A filing by Micron and Ovo
But the ECDLT describes it as a “sweetheart deal, done in private”.
Ovonyx and Micron have described the case as “little more that the Trust’s attempt to revive and monetize a twenty-year-old executory contract.”
All parties are no doubt keen to move on.
Observers like Computer Business Review, meanwhile, watch closely; not least for more insight into one of the most intriguing yet closely guarded technologies of the memory world, which remains in limited production via Micron’s IMFT facility.