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Rambus files antitrust suit

The chip designer's latest legal move asserts that Siemens and Micron Technology colluded to limit consumer choice and compete unfairly in the RDRAM market.

Chip designer Rambus has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Siemens and Micron Technology, furthering its legal assault on rivals.

The Los Altos, Calif., company filed an antitrust lawsuit in the Superior Court of California on Wednesday. The suit, which also names Hynix Semiconductor and Infineon Technologies, alleges that the four companies together stifled competition in the computer memory chip market.

"From substantial written evidence already in the public record, we believe that these memory manufacturers colluded illegally, thereby limiting consumer choice and depriving our RDRAM products of the opportunity to compete fairly in the marketplace," Rambus general counsel John Danforth said in a statement.

Representatives from Siemens, Hynix Semiconductor and Infineon could not be immediately reached for comment.

Micron had yet to review the lawsuit, but the company said it would vigorously defend itself. "It is unfortunate that Rambus is trying to blame the market failure of its RDRAM technology on others," Micron spokesman Dave Parker said in a statement.

The suit adds to a series of Rambus litigation against competitors and fuels an already contentious faction of the chip industry. U.S. and European regulators are investigating semiconductor manufacturers, including Infineon and Micron Technology, over potential price-fixing in the memory market.

Rambus has a history of legal entanglements with its current defendants, including cases against Hynix and Infineon.

In 2002, a federal trials court dismissed Rambus' case against German chipmaker Infineon for patent infringement and granted Infineon millions in attorneys' fees and damages. An appeals court, however, overturned the damage awards in 2003 and ordered that the court allow Rambus to bring its case against Infineon in a new trial. If Rambus wins, Infineon may have to pay its rival millions of dollars in damages.

Rambus is also empowered by a recent ruling from the Federal Trade Commission. In February, the FTC dismissed its two-year antitrust case against the chipmaker after finding that Rambus did not engage in illegal conduct.

The case centered on allegations that Rambus deceived the industry and a standards body by not disclosing its patent plans regarding synchronous dynamic random access memory while SDRAM-related standards talks were under way. Once standards had been adopted, Rambus filed intellectual-property suits against several major makers of SDRAM, the most common memory found on the market.

Rambus' 36-page

"While we cannot change the past, we have a duty to our stockholders to respond appropriately to this evidence, which we are doing today."

Last month, Rambus reported an increase in earnings for the first quarter. Earnings for the quarter came to $8.3 million, or 7 cents a share, compared with $5.1 million, or 5 cents a share, in the same period last year. It also reported a $1.9 million increase in litigation expenses during the quarter.