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Rambus Incorporated
Type Public (NASDAQRMBS)
Founded 1990
Headquarters 4440 El Camino Real
Los Altos, California
United States
Key people Harold Hughes, Chief Executive Officer
Website www.rambus.com

Rambus Incorporated (NASDAQRMBS), founded in 1990, is a technology licensing company. The company became particularly well known for its aggressive intellectual property based litigation practices following the introduction of DDR-SDRAM memory.

Contents

History

Rambus, a California company, was incorporated in 1990 and re-incorporated in Delaware in 1997. The company was listed on NASDAQ in 1997 under the code RMBS. As of February 2006, Rambus derived the majority of its annual revenue by licensing patents for chip interfaces to its customers.

Companies such as AMD, Elpida, Infineon, Intel, Matsushita, NECEL, Qimonda, Renesas, Sony, and Toshiba have taken licenses to Rambus patents for use in their own products.[1]

Rambus' share price has ranged between a high of nearly $150 in 2000 to a low of approxmiately $3 in 2002 with a 4:1 split on June 15, 2000. Rambus' 2009 share price is around $16 and the company as a whole is valued at 1.6 billion US dollars [2].

Technology

Plaques on a wall at the Rambus headquarters in Los Altos, California, each representing a U.S. patent issued to the company.

The first PC motherboards with support for RDRAM debuted in 1999. They supported PC800 RDRAM, which operated at 400 MHz but presented data on both rise and fall of clock cycle resulting in effectively 800 MHz, and delivered 1600 MB/s of bandwidth over a 16-bit bus using a 184-pin RIMM form factor. This was significantly faster than the previous standard, PC133 SDRAM, which operated at 133 MHz and delivered 1066 MB/s of bandwidth over a 64-bit bus using a 168-pin DIMM form factor.

Some downsides of RDRAM technology, however, included significantly increased latency, heat output, manufacturing complexity, and cost. PC800 RDRAM operated with a latency of 45 ns, compared to only 7.5 ns for PC133 SDRAM. RDRAM memory chips also put out significantly more heat than SDRAM chips, necessitating heatsinks on all RIMM devices. RDRAM also includes a memory controller on each memory chip, significantly increasing manufacturing complexity compared to SDRAM, which used a single memory controller located on the northbridge chipset. RDRAM was also two to three times the price of PC133 SDRAM due to manufacturing costs, license fees and other market factors. DDR SDRAM, introduced in 2000, operated at an effective clockspeed of 266 MHz and delivered 2100 MB/s over a 64-bit bus using a 184-pin DIMM form factor.

With the introduction of the i840 chipset, Intel added support for dual-channel PC800 RDRAM, doubling bandwidth to 3200 MB/s by increasing the bus width to 32-bit. This was followed in 2002 by the i850E chipset, which introduced PC1066 RDRAM, increasing total dual-channel bandwidth to 4200 MB/s. Also in 2002, Intel released the E7205 Granite Bay chipset, which introduced dual-channel DDR support for a total bandwidth of 4200 MB/s, but at a much lower latency than competing RDRAM. In 2003, Intel released the i875P chipset, and along with it dual-channel DDR400. With a total bandwidth of 6400 MB/s, it marked the end of RDRAM as a technology with competitive performance.

Rambus survived the obsolescence of RDRAM and moved to support DDR and DDR2 in the area of video card technology and in particular, PCI-E. Rambus also developed and licensed its XDR RAM technology.

Lawsuits

In the early 1990s, Rambus was invited to join the JEDEC. Rambus had been trying to interest memory manufacturers in licensing their proprietary memory interface, and numerous companies had signed non-disclosure agreements to view Rambus' technical data. During the later Infineon v. Rambus trial, Infineon memos from a meeting with representatives of other manufacturers surfaced, including the line “[O]ne day all computers will be built this way, but hopefully without the royalties going to Rambus”, and continuing with a strategy discussion for reducing or eliminating royalties to be paid to Rambus. As Rambus continued its participation in JEDEC, it became apparent that they were not prepared to agree to JEDEC’s patent policy requiring owners of patents included in a standard to agree to license that technology under terms that are ‘reasonable and non-discriminatory’,[3] and Rambus withdrew from the organization in 1995. Memos from Rambus at that time showed they were tailoring new patent applications to cover features of SDRAM being discussed, which were public knowledge (JEDEC meetings were not considered secret) and perfectly legal for patent owners who have patented underlying innovations, but were seen as evidence of bad faith by the jury in the first Infineon v. Rambus trial. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this theory of bad faith in its decision overturning the fraud conviction Infineon achieved in the first trial (see below).

In 2000, Rambus began filing lawsuits against the largest memory manufacturers, claiming that they owned SDRAM and DDR technology. Seven manufacturers, including Samsung, quickly settled with Rambus and agreed to pay royalties on SDRAM and DDR memory. When Rambus sued Infineon Technologies, however, Micron and Hynix joined forces with Infineon to fight the lawsuit, countersuing with claims of fraud. This trio of memory manufacturers became known as “The Three Amigos”. In May 2001, Rambus was found guilty of fraud for having claimed that they owned SDRAM and DDR technology, and all infringement claims against memory manufacturers were dismissed. In January 2003, the Federal Court of Appeals overturned the fraud verdict of the jury trial in Virginia under Judge Payne, issued a new claims construction, and remanded the case back to Virginia for re-trial on infringement. In October 2003, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Thus, the case returned to Virginia per the Federal Court of Appeals ruling.

In January 2005, Rambus filed four more lawsuits against memory chip makers Hynix Semiconductor, Nanya Technology, Inotera Memories and Infineon Technology claiming that DDR 2, GDDR 2 and GDDR 3 chips contain Rambus technology. In March 2005, Rambus had its claim for patent infringements against Infineon dismissed. Rambus was accused of shredding key documents prior to court hearings, the judge agreed and dismissed Rambus' case against Infineon. This sent Rambus to the settlement table with Infineon. Infineon has agreed to pay Rambus quarterly license fees of $5.9m and in return, both companies ceased all litigation against each other. The agreement runs from November 2005 to November 2007. After this date, if Rambus has enough other agreements in place, Infineon may make extra payments up to $100m. Currently, cases involving Micron and Hynix remain in court. In June 2005, Rambus also sued one of its strongest proponents, Samsung, the world's largest memory manufacturer, and terminated Samsung's license. Samsung had promoted Rambus's RDRAM and currently remains a licensee of Rambus's XDR memory.

In May 2002, the United Stated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed charges against Rambus for antitrust violations. Specifically, the FTC complaint asserted that through the use of patent continuations and divisionals, Rambus pursued a strategy of expanding the scope of its patent claims to encompass the emerging SDRAM standard. The FTC's antitrust allegations against Rambus went to trial in the summer of 2003 after the organization formally accused Rambus of anti-competitive behavior the previous June, itself the result of an investigation launched in May 2002 at the behest of the memory manufacturers. The FTC's chief administrative-law judge, Stephen J. McGuire, dismissed the antitrust claims against Rambus in 2004, saying that the memory industry had no reasonable alternatives to Rambus technology and was aware of the potential scope of Rambus patent rights, according to the company. Soon after, FTC investigators filed a brief to appeal against that ruling.

In 2004, Infineon pled guilty to price-fixing in an attempt to manipulate the market spot-price of all major DRAM types. They later paid a fine of $160 million. Hynix and Samsung followed suit in 2005 and paid $185 million and $300 million respectively. Elpida is the most recent company to plead guilty and paid a fine of $85 million, the lowest of all memory manufacturers. It is widely believed that the evidence collected during the FTC's investigation of Rambus led directly to the guilty pleas.

On August 2, 2006, the Federal Trade Commission overturned McGuire's ruling, stating that Rambus illegally monopolized the memory industry under section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and also practiced deception that violated section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.[4]

February 5, 2007, U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that limits maximum royalties that Rambus may demand from manufacturers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which was set to 0.5% for DDR SDRAM for 3 years from the date the Commission’s Order is issued and then going to 0; while SDRAM's maximum royalty was set to 0.25%. The Commission claimed that halving the DDR SDRAM rate for SDRAM would reflect the fact that while DDR SDRAM utilizes four of the relevant Rambus technologies, SDRAM uses only two. In addition to collecting fees for DRAM chips, Rambus will also be able to receive 0.5% and 1.0% royalties for SDRAM and DDR SDRAM memory controllers or other non-memory chip components respectively. However, the ruling did not prohibit Rambus from collecting royalties on products based on (G)DDR2 SDRAM and other JEDEC post-DDR memory standards. Rambus has appealed the FTC Opinion/Remedy and awaits a court date for the appeal.[5]

July 30, 2007, the European Commission launched antitrust investigations against Rambus, taking the view that Rambus engaged in intentional deceptive conduct in the context of the standard-setting process, for example by not disclosing the existence of the patents which it later claimed were relevant to the adopted standard. This type of behaviour is known as a "patent ambush". Against this background, the Commission provisionally considered that Rambus breached the EC Treaty's rules on abuse of a dominant market position (Article 82 EC Treaty) by subsequently claiming unreasonable royalties for the use of those relevant patents. The Commission's preliminary view is that without its "patent ambush", Rambus would not have been able to charge the royalty rates it currently does.[6]

On March 26, 2008, the jury of the U.S. District Court in San Jose determined that Rambus acted properly while a member of the standard-setting organization JEDEC during its participating in the early 1990s, finding that the memory manufacturers did not meet their burden of proving antitrust and fraud claims.[7]

On April 22, 2008, the DC Court of Appeals overturned the FTC reversal of McGuire's 2004 ruling, saying that the FTC had not established that Rambus had harmed the competition.[8]

On April 29, 2008, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a ruling vacating the order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, saying the case with Samsung should be dismissed, saying Judge Robert E. Payne's findings critical of Rambus, were on a case that had already been settled, and thus had no legal standing.[9]

On January 9, 2009, A Delaware federal judge ruled that Rambus could not enforce patents against Micron Technology Inc stating that Rambus had a "clear and convincing" show of bad faith, and ruled that Rambus' destruction of key related documents (spoliation of evidence) nullified its right to enforce its patents against Micron. [10]

On February 23, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the bids by the FTC to impose royalty sanctions on Rambus via anti-trust penalties.[11]

In July 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected 8 claims by Rambus against Nvidia.[12]

On November 24th 2009 The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)rejected all 17 claims in three Rambus Inc. patents that the company asserted against Nvidia Corp. in a complaint filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

Management team

  • Harold Hughes, Chief Executive Officer
  • Dr. Mark Horowitz, Chief Scientist
  • Satish Rishi, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
  • Tom Lavelle, Senior Vice President and General Counsel
  • Sharon Holt, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales, Licensing and Marketing
  • Kevin Donnelly, Senior Vice President Engineering
  • Laura Stark, Senior Vice President Platform Solutions Group
  • Martin Scott, Senior Vice President Engineering
  • Michael Schroeder, Vice President Human Resources
  • Tim Messegee, Vice President Corporate Marketing
  • Eric Ries, Vice President and Managing Director, Rambus Japan

See also

References

  1. ^ RAMBUS FORM 10-K
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ More precisely, “that a license will be made available to applicants desiring to implement the standard either without compensation or under reasonable terms and conditions that are demonstrably free of any unfair discrimination”; §8.2 of the JEDEC Manual of Organization and Procedure (JM21-L), http://www.jedec.org/Home/manuals/JM21L.pdf
  4. ^ Rambus Monopolized Computer Memory Industry – FTC.
  5. ^ Commission confirms sending a Statement of Objections to Rambus.
  6. ^ FTC Trims Rambus’ Royalties for DRAM Technologies.
  7. ^ Rambus Obtained Patents Completely Legally, Court Finds.
  8. ^ US court beats up FTC over Rambus 'patent ambush' ruling, The Register, April 22, 2008
  9. ^ Appeals court sides with Rambus in Samsung matter, EDN.com, April 30, 2008
  10. ^ Rambus shares fall on patent ruling, Silicon Valley Business Journal, January 9, 2009
  11. ^ FTC Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court in Rambus Case, Bloomberg, February 24, 2009
  12. ^ US Patent Office Rejects 8 Rambus Claims Against Nvidia, Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2009

External links

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