Rambus tries a new licensing angle

The memory designer, which is suing manufacturers over their use of DDR memory, is now marketing technology that will help chipmakers adopt it.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read
Rambus, the memory designer that is suing manufacturers over their use of DDR memory, is now marketing technology that will help chipmakers adopt it.

The Los Altos, Calif.-based company has begun to license designs for interfaces for DDR DRAM, or double data rate DRAM, the most common type of memory found in PCs and a technology that's often used in consumer electronics devices as well. The interfaces essentially let another component retrieve data out of DDR DRAM chips.

Rambus already has signed licenses that allow manufacturers to make DDR DRAM or to create interfaces so chips can link to DDR DRAM. The new service allows manufacturers to buy a ready-made interface.

For Rambus, the new service is quite a reversal. Rambus came to prominence by designing RDRAM, a high-speed memory that many expected would become a standard. Because of technical difficulties and high costs, however, the industry adopted DDR DRAM.

Subsequently, Rambus sued Micron, Infineon and Hynix, claiming that DDR DRAM infringes on the intellectual property behind RDRAM. The suits, which are pending, could result in billions of dollars in royalties. Rambus has won victories in recent rounds of the suits.

The company also signed licensing deals with Samsung, Elpida and others under which they agreed to pay Rambus royalties for any DDR DRAM they manufacture. (Samsung's license payments lapse if courts rule that DDR DRAM does not infringe, according to several sources.)

There is no love lost between memory makers and Rambus. Even before the lawsuits, the relationship was fairly confrontational, according to several sources. Part of the reason is that the memory manufacturers felt that Rambus, which has only about 200 employees, was taking over a crucial part of their business, said Rambus CEO Geoff Tate in a recent interview.

Despite the acrimonious history, chipmakers have sound reasons to license the technology, said Rich Warmke, product marketing manager for interfaces at Rambus. A new version of DDR DRAM, called DDR 2, will come out soon that runs at 533MHz. It will soon speed up to 800MHz. Designing input-output mechanisms that run that fast isn't easy.

"They are going to have to increase their internal engineering efforts," he said.

Warmke did not identify any customers for the new service, but indicated that Rambus may make some announcements in the next few weeks.