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Rambus considers antitrust appeal as stock falls

Damages in the company's failed suit against Hynix and Micron could have been tripled to $12 billion

Rambus is considering whether to appeal the Wednesday jury verdict that scuttled its antitrust suit against Hynix Semiconductor and Micron Technologies, which could have required the defendants to pay nearly US$12 billion in damages.

A jury in the Superior Court of California voted 9-3 to dismiss Rambus' suit, in which the company accused Hynix and Micron of conspiring to lower the price of DRAM and raise the price of Rambus' competing RDRAM technology. RDRAM was introduced early in the past decade but never became the industry standard for memory. Rambus filed the suit in 2004.

The $3.95 billion in direct damages that Rambus had sought would have been tripled if all its allegations against Hynix and Micron had been proved, said Thomas Lavelle, senior vice president and general counsel of Rambus, on a conference call following the verdict. "Whatever was proven and accepted by the jury would have been trebled," Lavelle said.

The case held high stakes for all the parties involved. Rambus' shares on the Nasdaq (RMBS) plunged $10.93, or almost 61 percent, to $7.11 on Wednesday after the verdict was announced. Micron (MU) shot up on the Nasdaq by $1.28, to $6.74. Hynix is traded on the Korea Stock Exchange.

Rambus is reviewing its options for appeal to a higher court but has not yet decided on its next course of action, Lavelle said. That appeal might not be possible for six months or more while immediate post-trial motions are considered, he said.

Among the issues Rambus might raise on appeal is the fact that the jurors weren't informed about past guilty pleas to DRAM price-fixing, Lavelle confirmed. In 2005, both Hynix and Samsung pleaded guilty to price-fixing and paid fines.

The verdict in the three-month trial was delayed for several days by a juror's illness but came only a few minutes after the jury began deliberations on Wednesday, Lavelle said. However, lengthy delays may have affected the course of the trial, according to Rambus President and CEO Harold Hughes.

"It has been a long and difficult process of getting this case to trial, with a lot of detours along the way," Hughes said. "Delays tended to limit people's recollection of events and ultimately allowed for issues not central to the case to slowly creep in."

Since the antitrust suit was filed, Rambus has been involved in numerous other legal actions, including a patent dispute with Hynix and a failed antitrust suit against Rambus by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Wednesday's verdict doesn't affect any of the other lawsuits involving Rambus, Lavelle said.

Rambus plans to continue diversifying its business, which now includes a range of technologies including cryptography and LED lighting, Hughes said.

"As we have shown in the past, we are resilient and we expect to go forward," Hughes said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com


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