Opening remarks began on Monday in a US federal court in Virginia in the first of several patent infringement lawsuits filed by memory systems designer Rambus that may yield $1bn in patent fees and royalties.
The patent infringement trial against German chipmaker Infineon, a unit of Siemens, to be followed by several other chip makers, was initiated when the companies refused to pay licensing revenue to Rambus for patents the company holds relating to SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM).
Rambus started demanding payment for the patents in early 2000, when chips based on its own, competing memory technology, RDRAM (Rambus DRAM), was not yet in production.
At issue are rights Rambus claims to technology covering almost every type of memory chip for PCs and other electronic devices. Rambus licenses its technologies to companies such as Intel and Sony.
In pre-trial, Rambus introduced corrections to its SDRAM patents in an effort to offset a judge's ruling that the patents relate only to multiplexed memory-bus lines. Infineon has contested the admission of the patent corrections on the grounds that they were granted five months after Rambus filed suit against the chipmaker.
Infineon attorneys said they would seek to prove that Rambus knew of but failed to disclose prior inventions and existing patents. Rambus attorneys argued that Infineon knew about Rambus' intellectual property because of confidential 1991 licensing negotiations between the companies.
Rambus is currently suing Micron in Italy, which is expected to go to trial in a few weeks, and South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor, which was called Hyundai Electronics Industries until recently.
Rambus expects the Virginia trial against Infineon to finish around the middle of next month, while its patent infringement case against Micron in Delaware is scheduled for October.
Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, said: "Rambus will have the opportunity to collect from one per cent to five per cent royalties on billions' worth of chips, selling for $35 to $1,000 or more each."
Companies such as Hitachi, NEC, Samsung Electronics, Mitsubishi Electric and Toshiba have settled with Rambus and obtained technology licences.
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