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Fujitsu signs broad licensing deal with Rambus

It's the first time a system maker has licensed Rambus' chip interface tech, signaling a possible new front in patent battles.

Rambus, which develops chip interface technology, is turning its attention beyond chipmakers to computer vendors as potential targets for its licensing business.

Fujitsu has signed a system-level license that covers Rambus' entire portfolio of patents, Rambus announced Monday. The agreement covers technology that Fujitsu has used in PCs and servers, as well as future products for the next five years.

Depending on the number of chips Fujitsu buys from other Rambus licensees for its products, the payments over the next five years could range from $108 million to $198 million, Rambus disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Rambus designs the interfaces that link chips. It's best known in the memory world for the RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM) technology used in Sony's PlayStation 2 game console, and for its heated battles with DRAM companies over the technology used to make most of the world's memory chips.

Rambus and the DRAM industry have spent most of this decade arguing over whether Rambus' patents on memory technology cover products such as DRAM, SDRAM (synchronous DRAM), and DDR (double data rate) SDRAM. Rambus has sued several major memory manufacturers, claiming that the DRAM standard infringes on technology it patented in the 1990s. However, the memory manufacturers believe that Rambus' patents were obtained fraudulently, since Rambus was at one point a member of the standards-setting organization that developed the DRAM standard.

Rambus has settled its dispute with Infineon, which now has a license for Rambus' patents, but is in the middle of a trial with Hynix Semiconductor and has trials pending with Micron Technology and Samsung. With those legal efforts well under way, Rambus now appears to believe that companies using those chips in their systems also require a license for its patents.

Rambus is in discussion with other companies that manufacture systems, said Sharon Holt, the senior vice president of sales, licensing and marketing at Rambus. She declined to name specific organizations, but "it would certainly be our hope to have a license like this in place with other system companies," she said.

The Fujitsu deal is unique because Fujitsu manufactures chips as well as systems like PCs and servers, she said. But the licensing discount for purchasing chips from companies that also have licenses from Rambus could be a model for future agreements, she said.