Rambus continues to turn the tables in remaining patent disputes

In just one week's time, tack two more wins onto Rambus' column. After what appeared five years ago to have been potentially company-crushing scrutiny into its intellectual property practices -- truly the heart of the company -- the US Supreme Court decided Monday not to review last year's ruling of a DC Appeals Court panel that cleared the company of charges from the US Federal Trade Commission of unfair monopoly practices.

Specifically, the FTC, using evidence supplied by Rambus' competitors, had accused it of participating in memory technology standards committee JEDEC, while at the same time deceitfully withholding disclosure of having applied for patents for the same technologies JEDEC was standardizing. An FTC panel unanimously came to that conclusion in 2006. But the DC Court of Appeals unanimously overturned that conclusion, on the basis that JEDEC's bylaws didn't exactly specify that members must disclose their patent interests...and that if Rambus behaved the way competitors say it did, it may not have been alone.

The FTC's case may have begun unraveling in its 2006 order, when it attempted to suggest a remedy to impose upon Rambus. It suggested a compulsory licensing scheme whereby Rambus would have been due a small amount, but only after it conceded that it couldn't find any evidence that had Rambus followed the JEDEC rules the complainants said it must follow, there wouldn't have been any charge at all.

"We conclude, however, that Complaint Counsel have not satisfied their burden of demonstrating that a royalty-free remedy is necessary to restore the competition that would have existed in the 'but for' world -- i.e., that absent Rambus's deception, JEDEC would not have standardized Rambus technologies, thus leaving Rambus with no royalties," the Commission concluded at the time. "We have examined the record for the proof that the courts have found necessary to impose royalty-free licensing, but do not find it."

Not only did charging nothing not make sense (to risk sounding like a triple-negative), but the notion that JEDEC wasn't clear about what would have made sense, may have been the first strike against the FTC.

The high court's decision not to decide brings to a close litigation that commenced under the previous administration, and that new leadership at the FTC may have wanted to reconsider anyway. But that wasn't the only good news for the memory maker: Yesterday, a Northern California district court ruled that Hynix Semiconductor actually owes Rambus back damages -- as much as 4.25% of all sales of Hynix double-data-rate SDRAM dating back to 2005 -- on top of a $133 million jury award. Hynix was one of the litigants contributing to the original claim of Rambus' unfair behavior; the patent infringement claim was part of Hynix' countermeasures.

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