Rambus Patents Ruled Unenforceable

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In a closely watched intellectual property case, U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson has ruled that Rambus employees had destroyed email and other documents related to the company’s patents, litigation, and marketing strategies between 1998 and 1999, and, as such, a dozen DRAM-related patents held by Rambus cannot be enforced against memory maker Micron. The two companies have patent-infringement lawsuits filed against each other in the Delaware court; however, Judge Robinson’s ruling would appear to take most of the wind out of Rambus’ case, with the judge characterizing Rambus’ bad faith “clear and convincing.”

“The spoliation conduct was extensive, including within its scope the destruction of innumerable documents relating to all aspects of Rambus’ business,” Judge Robinson wrote. “Therefore, the court concludes that the appropriate sanction for the conduct of record is to declare the patents in suit unenforceable against Micron.”

Rambus had established a three-month retention policy on email, and conducted two “document shred days” at times, according to Robinson, company officials should have known patent litigation was likely.

“We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with this opinion, and at the appropriate juncture plan to appeal,” said Rambus’s senior VP and general counsel Tom Lavelle, in a statement. “This opinion is highly inconsistent with the findings of the Court in the Northern District of California which looked at the same conduct and found there was nothing improper with our document retention practices.”

Micron, for its part, applauded the decision: “We believe that the decision is applicable to other pending cases, and we are reviewing the ruling to determine its potential impact,” said MIcron VP of legal affairs Rod Lewis, in a statement.

The California case Rambus refers to in its statement also names Hynix, Samsung, and Nanya as defendants; the case is still pending.

The case originates over ten years ago, when Rambus began marketing patented technology to improve performance of DRAM used in computers. Rambus attempted to get DRAM manufacturers and systems makers to license its technology; however, in 1998 chipmaker Intel decided to go with Micron’s technology, rather than Rambus’s. The FTC has also become involved in the dispute, accusing Rambus of deceiving a standards-setting body by failing to disclose its DRAM patents; the FTC’s case is currently being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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