RealTime IT News

FTC Probes Rambus With Antitrust Suit

Officials with the Federal Trade Commission are looking into anti-trust violations by Rambus , according to reports released Monday.

The Los Altos, Calif.-based semiconductor-maker could be served with the lawsuit papers as early as today. The suit is based on Rambus' plans to creating a memory chip standard with the computer industry while concurrently securing the patent rights to it.

Rambus' technology and intellectual property are licensed to leading semiconductor suppliers, including DRAM, controller and microprocessor manufacturers, ASIC developers, and foundries for use in computer, consumer and networking systems such as personal computers, workstations, servers, game consoles, set top boxes, digital HDTVs, high-speed switches and routers.

The FTC suit seeks to prevent Rambus from collecting royalties on its SDRAM memory and possibly its more advanced DDR memory, according to lawyers familiar with the FTC probe.

"We have been actively and openly working with the FTC as they pursue their investigation," said Rambus spokesperson Linda Ashmore. "At this time there have been no decisions made by the commission on whether to file a formal complaint or not. This activity has been going on for the better part of a year and we continue to cooperate fully with the commission."

Last year, the FTC launched its initial probe saying Rambus could have violated JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) rules. The trade association represents the semiconductor engineering standardization body of the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). Complaints by Hyundai Electronics Industries Co. Ltd. and Micron Technology Inc. suggested that Rambus did not announce it was pursuing patents for synchronous DRAM, even as the technology was being discussed in an open JEDEC session.

Rambus is suing both Hyundai and Micron in a German court by for allegedly violating the company's SDRAM patents.

This time around, chipmakers could opt to pay Rambus $1 billion in royalties before the suit goes to court or they could come up with another design around the patent.

One of the chipmakers that could sit at the winning end of either the settlement or the patent litigation is Intel . Back in September 2001, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company signed a 5-year deal with Rambus to exchange patent information under a comprehensive cross-license agreement.