Court Overturns Verdict Against Rambus

A U.S. appellate court tosses out fraud charges Infineon Technologies filed against Rambus.

The ongoing legal dispute between memory chip maker Rambus Inc. and Infineon Technologies A.G. took another turn this week when a U.S. appellate court tossed out fraud charges against Rambus and set aside a verdict of fraud from last year against the company.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District ruled Wednesday that a district court judge in Virginia was wrong in determining that Rambus, of Los Altos, Calif., didnt have its own valid patent infringement claims against Infineon, of Munich, Germany. The case was returned to the trial court.

The legal dispute between Rambus and Infineon—as well as between Rambus and other companies, such as Micron Technology Inc.—centers around the companies participation in an industry standards body called the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council, or JEDEC, from 1992 to 1995. JEDEC rules said that group members must disclose appropriate proprietary claims related to the standards that were being discussed.

However, some group members accused Rambus of failing to disclose patent filings relevant to memory technologies, with the result being that some of these memory makers claimed they unknowingly incorporated proprietary technology into future chip designs.

The appellate court, in its ruling, said that the JEDECs rules were vague, and questioned whether other companies also held back patent information. There were only 60 disclosed patents from among the 50 members, the court said. If the rules had been followed as anticipated, there would have been more, the court said.

Rambus developed a high-speed memory technology called Rambus DRAM. However, it was hobbled by high costs and challenged by faster SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) and DDR (double-data-rate) DRAM. Once that happened, Rambus pushed to protect its technology patents to features of the SDRAM and DDR DRAM.

Rambus CEO Geoff Tate applauded the appellate courts decisions.

"Todays rulings help substantiate the importance of our past inventions and allow us to continue our focus on technology leadership," Tate said in a prepared statement.

However, Rambus legal battles arent over. The rulings send back the dispute with Infineon to the trial court—where a judge had fined the company $350,000 and ordered it to pay $7.4 million to cover Infineons legal fees—and the Federal Trade Commission is continuing an antitrust investigation it began last summer against the company.