RealTime IT News

Not Enough Memory in DRAM Suit

Sun Microsystems and Unisys' civil lawsuit against Hynix and other dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chipmakers is dead. At least for now.

DRAM, the most commonly used semiconductor memory product, is used in PCs, laptops, workstations, servers, printers, PDAs, mobile phones, digital cameras, TVs, digital set top boxes and digital music players. The companies claim the Korean-based Hynix and other DRAM makers conspired to fix prices for chips sold in the United States.

In a ruling issued last week, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that Sun and Unisys were not specific enough in their complaint about whether the damage occurred in the United States or overseas. Hamilton gave Sun and Unisys until May 4 to refile the lawsuit.

"Defendants [Hynix] contend that since plaintiffs' claims are based at least in part on artificially high DRAM prices that were paid by plaintiffs…for DRAM that was delivered abroad for use abroad, this 'foreign' portion of plaintiffs' claims is not recoverable," Hamilton wrote in her nine-page dismissal of the case.

In opening the door for further action by Sun and Unisys , Hamilton wrote, "The court must first be able to define the precise nature of plaintiffs' claims, and to identify with specificity the exact 'domestic injury' and 'foreign injury' allegations. Without this information, the court cannot begin to determine any of the above issues."

Spokesmen for both Sun and Unisys confirmed the companies would refile the lawsuit.

Sun and Unisys filed the lawsuit last September, seeking unspecified damages. In addition to Hynix, the lawsuit named Korea's Samsung, Germany's Infineon and Japan's Elpdia and Mitsubishi.

The lawsuit came in the wake of the Department of Justice's (DoJ) ongoing investigation into price fixing among DRAM makers that began in 2004. The probe has so far resulted in more than $700 million in criminal antitrust fines and prison sentences for several executives.

Infineon was the first to settle with the DoJ, agreeing to a $160 million fine in September of 2004.

In 2005, Hynix pleaded guilty and paid a $185 million fine. Months later, Samsung also took a guilty plea and paid a $300 million fine, the second largest criminal antitrust fine in U.S. history, for its role in the conspiracy.

Three Samsung executives also pleaded guilty and received U.S. jail terms ranging from seven to eight and were fined $250,000.

In addition to Sun and Unisys, other U.S. computer and server companies using DRAM chips sold during the price-fixing period include Dell , HP , Apple , IBM and Gateway .