Rambus in Patent Talks with All SDRAM Makers

Computer memory designer Rambus Inc. is continuing its crusade to collect royalty payments from chip makers for its proprietary, high-speed memory technology.

The company is currently in royalty-fee discussions with all major SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory) manufacturers, Avo Kanadjian, Rambus vice president of worldwide marketing, said in an interview at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) here Tuesday.

Kanadjian wouldn't say how far the discussions have gone with any of the companies, but he confirmed that Rambus is in various stages of negotiation with Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba Corp., Oki Electronic Industry Co. Ltd., Infineon Technologies AG, NEC Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., Hyundai Electronics Industry Co. and Micron Technology Inc.

"We know that the patents are controversial, but we think it is only fair that these companies should pay us royalty fees," Kanadjian said.

Asked why he thinks the patent discussions have caused so much controversy, Kanadjian said, "Every company in the industry is involved in cross licensing.

We are not interested in cross licensing, that's why people find us controversial." Cross licensing is the practice of two companies using each other's technology. Instead of paying one another a licensing fee, they let each other use the technology for little or no cost.

Rambus' core income comes from licensing fees on its RDRAM (Rambus DRAM) memory interface technology chip. Companies that manufacture chips using the technology have to pay Rambus a fee. Rambus makes roughly US$10 million a year on these fees, Kanadjian said.

Last year, however, Rambus started demanding patent fees for a technology used in SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) and DDR SDRAM (double data rate SDRAM) memory chips as well. Rambus owns a patent on this technology. The controversy started when Rambus separately sued Hitachi and Infineon early this year over the patent feesThen in June, when Toshiba signed a SDRAM licensing deal with Rambus, it appears that a door was opened for the memory designer to try to collect royalty fees from all SDRAM and DDR SDRAM makers. [See "Toshiba, Rambus Sign SDRAM Licensing Deal," June 16.]Not long afterwards, Hitachi and Rambus announced a halt to their legal wranglings. [See "Hitachi, Rambus End All Patent Disputes," June 22.] Kanadjian is confident that Rambus will come to an agreement with all manufacturers.

NEC's Aston Bridgman, assistant manager for NEC's public relations division in Tokyo, is one of those who is tired of all the legal battles Rambus is causing in the industry.

"I would like to know how Rambus feels about ending the legal disputes," Bridgman said Monday.

Kanadjian has a firm answer to that. "Our preference is to negotiate and come to an amicable agreement," he said. "We only have one suit right now and that is with Infineon. But it is like somebody living in your house, they should pay rent. If not, they are squatters. At the risk of annoying people, we believe it is our right to demand payment."Rumors have circulated about the possibility of SDRAM manufacturers suing Rambus back. Kanadjian shrugs at the suggestion, and doesn't believe the rumors. But he has a message for those who might want to try.

"Any company can fight us in court, but if we win we can choose not to licence them anymore," Kanadjian said.

Rambus has no intention of changing its course and starting to manufacture its own technology. When asked about the company's future mission, Kanadjian said, "Our goal is that our new technology QRSL (quad Rambus signalling levels) should be used in all gaming devices in the future."Rambus was once promoted by Intel Corp. as the memory interface of choice for all desktop PCs. Rambus remains a relatively expensive technology, however, and PC makers have balked at using Rambus memory in their machines, raising questions about the memory designer's future.

Asked about the future of Rambus during a press briefing at IDF this week, Craig Barrett, Intel's chief executive officer and president, said Intel will continue to support Rambus in high-performance PCs because "we like the performance."His comments outside of that were fairly noncommittal. Intel's support for Rambus in lower performance PCs will depend on "market economics," Barrett said. "Our intention is not to hamstring ourselves," he added.

Rambus, in Mountain View, California, can be reached at +1-650-944-8080 or on the Web at http://www.rambus.com/.

(James Niccolai of IDG News Service contributed to this story.)

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