US judge halts Rambus case

A US federal judge decided on Tuesday (3 February) to postpone a patent trial slated to begin this month to hear disputes between chip designer Rambus and some of the world’s top memory makers. Shares in Rambus tumbled more than 20 per cent in extended trading on Tuesday.

The order by Judge Ronald Whyte, of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, represents the latest twist in a multi-front legal battle between Rambus and a slew of memory chip manufacturers, including Samsung Electronics, Hynix Semiconductor, Nanya and Micron Technology. Rambus was not immediately available for comment.

The company has accused the manufacturers of infringing its patents relating to the DRAM memory used in personal computers. The defendants have in turn argued that Rambus destroyed important documents related to the case, in addition to a variety of other counterclaims including fraud and monopolisation. These alleged actions mean Rambus has “unclean hands,” they argued, invalidating its patent claims.

Judge Whyte had previously shot down the so-called “unclean hands” claims relating to Rambus’ behavior, but in January a judge in Delaware upheld the claim and ruled that Rambus’ patents were unenforceable against Micron.

In Tuesday’s order, Judge Whyte said the issue should be resolved by a federal appeals court before the patent trial can proceed. The trial had been set to get under way on 17 February.
In light of the Delaware decision, Judge Whyte wrote that the February trial date “no longer serves judicial economy and fairness.”

The delay means the trial might not begin for another year or two, said Michael Cohen, director of research at MDC Financial Research, who has both a long and short position in Rambus shares. “A lot of people were looking for a positive catalyst in an ugly economic environment and now the cheese has been moved,” Cohen said.

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