Semiconductor IP vendor Rambus Inc has made available emails between memory makers Hynix Semiconductor and Micron Technology that bolster Rambus’ allegations of a price-fixing conspiracy.
Rambus claimed the alleged collusion effectively blocked Rambus’ proprietary technology, which had the blessing of the world’s largest chipmaker Intel Corp, from widespread adoption. Now Rambus reckons it has the emails to prove it.
The disclosures at least buoyed Wall Street, which sent shares in Rambus 18.5% higher to close at $28.75 on the Nasdaq yesterday. The price edged even higher in after-hours trading.
The emails between rivals Hynix and Micron are discovery documents in Rambus’ antitrust case against the companies.
Rambus also initially named Infineon and its parent company Siemens in the case, but settled with Infineon, and therefore Siemens, last year. It later added Samsung Electronics as an alleged co-conspirator in its suit.
Rambus filed suit in May 2004 claiming that the memory makers colluded to fix prices and dominate the DRAM memory market, restrict supply and boycott Rambus’ DRAM, called RDRAM, technology.
DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, is currently the common type of computer memory.
Rambus says correspondence between its competitors supports its claims they shared pricing and supply information of DDR, or double data rate DRAM, in order to price RDRAM out of the market.
We want DDR to explode into the marketplace so have actually been requesting Infineon, Samsung and Hynix lower their DDR pricing to help it become a standard (and drive Rambus away completely), said Micron VP for international sales Linda Turner in a June 5, 2001 e-mail to her staff, according to documents supplied by Rambus.
The documents, which previously were sealed under a protective order, show extensive emailed discussions about rival DDR prices and volumes between several staff at Micron, the No. 2 memory maker, as well as staff at Hynix.
One email string between Hynix employees, dated July 3, 2001, discussed organizing a meeting with Micron VP Mike Sadler to discuss with us measures to stabilize the market price.
Samsung agrees to the gap based DDR pricing, read another email, dated December 12, 2001, from Hynix marketing employee C.K. Chung to the company’s worldwide head of sales and other Hynix managers after an apparent lunch meeting with Samsung.
Rambus SVP and general counsel John Danforth said the documents were now being made public because Hynix and Micron did not seek a protective order. In mid-September, the world’s largest DRAM maker Samsung filed a demurrer, which is plea for dismissal, of Rambus’ case.
Micron spokesperson Daniel Francisco countered Rambus’ allegations. He said Rambus had engaged in a variety of illegal activities designed to injure Micron, including destruction of evidence, false testimony and other improper activities designed to mislead courts and Micron to extract unjust patent licensing fees or damages from Micron.
Francisco said Rambus’ DRAM failed in the marketplace because it was too expensive. What’s more, Micron claims Rambus’ lawsuit attempts to piggyback a separate US Department of Justice investigation into a global memory price-fixing conspiracy.
So far, the US government’s more than three-year investigation into disparate price movements in the global DRAM industry, from early 1999 through mid-2002, has levied $731m in total fines.
Federal prosecutors said victims of the conspiracy include Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, which were forced to pay excessive DRAM prices for their machines.
Hynix, Samsung and Infineon have pleaded guilty in the price-fixing scheme and were ordered to pay fines, as part of the government’s ongoing investigation. Executives at Hynix, Infineon, Micron and Samsung also have been charged.
Micron’s Francisco said Rambus’ own lawsuit revolves around the failure of RDRAM in the marketplace, which is unrelated to the Department of Justice’s price fixing investigation.
Rambus has attempted to bootstrap the DOJ price fixing investigation into a supposed boycott of Rambus DRAM, Francisco said.
It is widely thought that Micron and others have resisted using RDRAM because it involved paying royalty and licensing fees to Rambus.
More recently, Rambus has claimed patents on DDR and sought to enforce its intellectual property rights. There has been several countersuits from other memory makers, which claim Rambus’ patents are invalid.