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Micron braces for rising tide of suits

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Photos by Darin Oswald / The Idaho Statesman
Rod Lewis, Micron corporate counsel and vice president of legal affairs, worries that patent infringement cases could drive American businesses offshore. "There are some real concerns because there`s an ever-increasing number of (patent) cases and there`s a trend toward going after major manufacturers, particularly in the U.S.," said Lewis. "It makes it difficult to be a manufacturer here. We could be an IP (intellectual property) company and have someone in China manufacture for us. These trends ultimately are making it more difficult for U.S. manufacturing companies."

Legal battles on three fronts
The legal battles Micron has taken on in recent years involve claims of lying, stealing and cheating.In the legal world, they`re referred to as collusion, patent-infringement and price-fixing. There are three major legal issues currently facing Micron.
Micron vs. Rambus; Rambus vs. Micron
What: Claims of patent infringement and collusion
Rambus Inc., a California firm, claims that several DRAM manufacturers, including Micron, are using its technology without paying proper royalties. This is a convoluted case that has its roots stretching back to mid-1998 and has devolved into both Rambus and Micron accusing each other of fraud.
Micron did license Rambus` technology to manufacture what was called RDRAM in 1998. In fact, Intel Corp. paid $500 million for 6 percent of Micron stock that year to encourage Micron to lead production of RDRAM. Intel believed RDRAM was key to the next generation of personal computers powered by its superfast microprocessors.
A year later, however, the RDRAM chip still was not ready for production and Micron and other DRAM makers seemed less enthusiastic about promoting that technology. Meanwhile, Rambus asserted claims against some DRAM manufacturers, saying it also owned patents for other key DRAM technology. Analysts said DRAM manufacturers could be liable for billions of dollars in royalties if Rambus won the lawsuit.
In early 2000, Micron struck first, filing a U.S. lawsuit against Rambus claiming the firm violated anti-trust laws for the way it went about capturing its DRAM technology patents. Micron claimed it had been part of a group with Rambus that had helped develop the technology and that the group had agreed to openly share the results.
Later that year, Rambus sued Micron in several European countries where Micron does business. Micron then joined competitors Infineon and Hynix to sue Rambus in Europe, seeking to have certain patents blocked.
In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission joined the legal muddle, launching an antitrust investigation into Rambus. Those allegations were struck down in February. An appeal was filed by the FTC, and that appeal is pending.
In May, Rambus sued Micron, Hynix, Siemens AG and Infineon, claiming antitrust violations. Rambus cited testimony from the FTC case as proof that the chipmakers conspired against it and attempted to force customers to not use Rambus technology. That case is pending. There are still pending cases in Italy and France. Micron`s U.S. suit against Rambus is also pending.
Impact: In a report to the SEC, Micron warned that "A court determination that our products or manufacturing processes infringe the intellectual property rights of others could result in significant liability and/or require us to make material changes to our products and/or manufacturing processes. Any of the foregoing results could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition."
U.S. Department of Justice investigation
What: Possible price fixing and collusion
The most precarious case, perhaps, is a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that has been quietly under way since June 2002. The Justice Department has subpoenaed information from Micron and competitors Samsung, Hynix and Infineon.
It is generally accepted that the investigation is into price-fixing among the top DRAM manufacturers, focusing on the spring 2002 when DRAM prices rose suddenly.
That seemed to be confirmed when, in December, the Justice Department charged a Micron manager based in New York with concealing and altering documents related to the pricing of Micron products, as well as its competitors. Those documents had been subpoenaed in the course of the investigation. At that time, Micron executives said the actions against its former manager did not implicate the company. They also said Micron did not expect any legal actions against it by the Justice Department.
The Justice Department has declined to discuss the case, and there is no indication when this investigation will end.
Impact: In a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Micron warned that the resolution of this case "could result in significant liability and could have a material adverse effect on the company`s business, results of operations or financial condition."
Class action lawsuits vs. Micron and others
What: Claims of price fixing and collusion
More than 25 class action lawsuits were filed against Micron and all of its major competitors after the Justice Department launched its investigation. The lawsuits, stemming from plaintiffs who filed in courts throughout the country, have been consolidated into one case in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and are on behalf of individuals and businesses who purchased DRAM directly from the various DRAM suppliers.
That case is pending.
Impact: Micron reported to the SEC that it believes "that class treatment of these cases is not appropriate and that any purported injury alleged by plaintiffs would be more appropriately resolved on a customer-by-customer basis." However, the company adds, "We can give no assurance that the final resolution will not result in significant liability and will not have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition."

Darin Oswald / The Idaho Statesman
Micron Technology, the world`s third largest maker of electronic memory, staffs an office of 23 attorneys to conduct the company`s legal affairs.


Micron Technology is one of the top patent holders in the United States and actively defends its patent rights.
Julie Howard

The Idaho Statesman | Edition Date: 09-05-2004
Micron Technology has seen a surge in legal actions in recent years — ones which also have become more complex and potentially serious.

Losing just one current lawsuit — a claim that the company is improperly using someone else`s technology — could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

The world`s third-largest maker of electronic memory — and the Treasure Valley`s largest employer — faces more than 25 class-action lawsuits, claims of fraud and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

And that`s just for starters.

Micron`s legal costs are escalating as it faces a tangle of lawsuits that have erupted in the past two years. The Justice Department in June 2002 began a continuing investigation on price-fixing, prompting two dozen civil lawsuits around the country that have been consolidated into one case in California.

But industry analysts and financial experts aren`t particularly concerned. And while Micron`s legal expenses are climbing, the firm`s top executive says it`s a routine part of doing business in today`s technology industry.

"Any litigation is a concern and we have to take it seriously," said Micron Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Appleton recently. "It`s on our agenda as something we have to address. We don`t have any more legal issues now than five years ago in aggregate."

Analysts unconcerned

The same types of issues may be facing Micron, but today, they`re more ominous.

Three cases have prompted Micron to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission that a negative ruling could result in a "material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition."

Analysts who cover the semiconductor industry either declined to comment for this article or said Micron`s legal issues weren`t particularly troubling.

"I never care about legal issues of the industry," said Nam Hyung Kim, an iSupply Corp. senior analyst based in El Segundo, Calif. "They`re always happening. None of the legal issues surrounding the DRAM market have impacted the market in DRAM history."

DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, is Micron`s primary product and is used in personal computers and other electronic devices.

The uncertainty of how a court will ultimately rule and the length of time cases take to resolve are other reasons analysts and other market watchers aren`t particularly concerned. Analysts are interested if a case chases away suppliers or customers, or creates shifts in market share, said Kim, but that traditionally has not been a result of legal issues in the DRAM industry.

"With legal issues, it`s difficult to tell what is going to happen," said Nam.

"The legal issues are concerning, but that`s why they have a legal team on it."

Legal issues aren`t likely to affect Micron`s credit rating with Standard & Poor`s rating agency unless a decision is looming and the likelihood of a loss is high.

"We try to look at materiality, probability and timing," said Bruce Hyman, who covers Micron for Standard & Poor`s. "Unless there`s a reasonably high probability of (a court loss), we don`t allow for them."

Most of the pressing legal issues, too, are shared by Micron`s top competitors. The Justice Department investigation and class action lawsuits equally focus on Micron`s top competitors, Samsung Electronics, Hynix Semiconductor and Infineon Technologies. Rambus Inc., a California firm, is also suing Infineon for royalty payments.

Hyman looks at it this way:

If Rambus wins its patent suit, every DRAM manufacturer is impacted, not just Micron.

"We don`t get into issues that don`t affect the competitive balance of the company," Hyman said. "It`s not going to dramatically affect Micron`s market share."

The bottom line for Hyman, he said, is that he doesn`t believe a huge judgment is looming.

"If there were a scenario where Micron had to pay somebody 1 percent of sales, that sort of number tends to be a one-time effect on revenues," he said. "You rarely see large catch-up penalties."

Adjusting a firm`s credit rating is serious because a lowered rating can make it more difficult or expensive for a company to get financing. Hyman takes into account numerous factors, but adds there are many potential factors about technology firms that can`t be predicted.

"I always have concerns about tech-intensive companies," said Hyman. "Micron has a B-plus rating which shows they face a high degree of risk and financial pressures, far greater than, say, a Kellogg`s. Ratings recognize credit quality, and that is a long-term issue."


Cost of doing business

Micron plays in one of the most legally contentious industries in the world.

Lawsuits over patents are common. And Micron is one of the world`s most prolific producers of U.S. patents. In 2003, Micron received more than 1,700 patents; in 2002, it received more than 1,800, ranking third in the nation for patents issued.

For three straight years, Micron has been ranked No. 1 in the semiconductor industry for its technological strength, which includes the ability to convert leading-edge technology into intellectual property.

"The semiconductor industry is perhaps more active than others in patent litigation," said Rod Lewis, Micron`s corporate counsel and vice president of legal affairs. "What`s happening is there`s a trend in the semiconductor industry toward more patent litigation. But it`s fair to say that there are many companies who are engaged in IP (intellectual property) related litigation, and that creates higher legal expenses."

Lewis won`t disclose Micron`s legal costs or discuss specific ongoing litigation. He acknowledged that legal issues can become burdensome to the point where it impacts operations.

"There are some real concerns because there`s an ever-increasing number of (patent) cases and there`s a trend toward going after major manufacturers, particularly in the U.S.," said Lewis. "It makes it difficult to be a manufacturer here. We could be an IP company and have someone in China manufacture for us. These trends ultimately are making it more difficult for U.S. manufacturing companies."

While Micron isn`t contemplating that scenario — of being an IP company and doing manufacturing solely outside the United States — Lewis points out that many companies have taken on that type of structure partly because of legal issues.

William Wise, corporate counsel for Analog Devices Inc. in Massachusetts, said litigation is a concern for any type of company.

"The most daunting problem for any company is how to deal with litigation," said Wise, who serves on the International Legal Affairs Committee for the National Association of Corporate Counsel. "It`s expensive, time consuming and the outcome is generally not assured."

Not dealing with litigation efficiently can waste assets and disrupt business, he said.

Micron employs 23 attorneys full time at its corporate headquarters in Boise and routinely works with "a number of large national law firms" and legal experts in other countries, said Lewis. Large global public firms have a need for plenty of legal counsel, and Micron`s legal team routinely works on issues ranging from employment, environmental and securities to trademarks, patenting and commercial transactions.

On top of that, there are increased compliance issues related to the recent Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law. "There are a number of active cases we are involved in, but our expenses are comparable to other companies in our industry," said Lewis.

Probable costs

Micron executives say they do not anticipate fines or charges connected to the Justice Department investigation. By law, the firm is required to disclose the anticipation of a penalty if it believes one is probable.

In July, Infineon Technologies told investors and analysts it believed it would receive a penalty related to the U.S. Justice Department case and the related class action civil claims, and even disclosed an amount: $262 million. That amount is how much Infineon believes it will spend on fines and litigation costs related to those claims.

Paul Bahnson, an accounting professor at Boise State University, said Micron`s lack of a similar disclosure backs up its statement that a fine is not expected. He added, however, that companies aren`t likely to estimate penalties of civil litigation because doing so could be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

"With litigation, the most common amount to accrue is zero," said Bahnson. "If you admit a fine is probable, then the opposing attorney is probably going to take that into court against them."

Micron has reported to the SEC that it believes it has set aside sufficient funds for the estimated costs of fines or a settlement. The firm does not say what case or cases that refers to, but acknowledges in its SEC filing that as a "normal course of business" it may have to indemnify other parties.

The firm acknowledges in an SEC filing that these types of payments historically "have not had a material effect on the company`s business, results of operations or financial condition."

Micron`s Lewis declined to say how much the firm has in reserve for specific actions.

Micron`s last quarterly statement to the SEC, filed in June, said the firm reported it had $110 million in "other liabilities," a category where firms tally up probable pending charges, often including legal liabilities. That "other liabilities" category has steadily grown on Micron`s balance sheet over the years. It was $89 million a year ago.

Bahnson said that amount is likely "an amalgam of many different things" and could even include severance or health benefits not yet paid out, making it impossible to determine if Micron is preparing for any type of legal penalty.

Lewis would only say this: "We have accruals, and those accruals are in compliance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles)."


Positive impacts

Micron hasn`t been shy about using the law to its own advantage.

The firm historically has been aggressive about trade issues, and last year won a case against competitor Hynix Semiconductor, resulting in the South Korean firm paying millions of dollars in tariffs on goods shipped into the United States. Under U.S. law, Micron receives those tariffs.

"Years ago, we first brought a dumping case against some Japanese companies, and then after that brought similar cases against Taiwan and Korea," said Lewis.

Micron, which has operations in Japan, recently petitioned the Japanese government to investigate imposing tariffs on Hynix there. That investigation was launched this year. "Historically, these cases have brought us significant benefit," said Lewis.

Quelle:

http://www.idahostatesman.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/200… 0312/1029/NEWS02


@ kashogi_de:

Kannst du mal das wichtigste daraus übersetzen und deine Meinung dazu sagen?


Ronni007
Rambus to Showcase World`s First Demonstration of XDR Memory Module Technology
XDIMM Modules and Dynamic Point-to-Point Technology Enable Speed, Flexibility, and Easy Upgrades for Main Memory Applications
9/7/2004 8:01:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO, Sep 7, 2004 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Rambus Inc. (RMBS), the leading developer of chip interface products and services, today announced the first-of-its-kind live demonstration of Dynamic Point-to-Point (DPP) technology applied to an XDR(TM) memory system. Rambus`s DPP technology is a unique innovation applicable to upgrades for memory modules using point-to-point signaling, allowing users to maximize capacity in their memory systems without compromising performance. This demonstration, being held in Booth 104 at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, displays a high-speed memory controller conducting bi-directional transactions to an XDIMM(TM) module-based system.

"Once memory speeds surpass 1 gigahertz data rates, routing data busses to multiple upgradeable modules becomes a challenge," said Rich Warmke, director of marketing for the Memory Interface Division at Rambus. "To meet the future needs of the PC and home server memory markets, Rambus`s DPP technology will be critical for OEMs who want to ship future high-performance memory-enabled PCs or home servers with a single module at full system bandwidth, with the option for a second module upgrade."

A single XDR memory-enabled XDIMM module provides 12.8-25.6 gigabytes per second of peak memory bandwidth using just 32 data signal pairs, and supports between 2 and 18 DRAM devices for a wide range of capacities.

In addition to 3.2GHz to 6.4GHz XDR memory interfaces, Rambus offers DDR and GDDR memory interface solutions for less demanding memory applications. With DDR and GDDR interfaces, Rambus is providing customers with a one-stop shop for all their memory interface needs.

The Dynamic Point-to-Point demonstration using XDIMM modules is being showcased at the Intel Developer Forum, September 7-9, 2004 at Moscone South Convention Center in San Francisco. For more information on DPP as well as other Rambus innovations, visit www.rambus.com.

About Rambus Inc.

Rambus is one of the world`s leading providers of advanced chip interface products and services. Since its founding in 1990, the company`s innovations, breakthrough technologies and integration expertise have helped industry-leading chip and system companies solve their most challenging and complex I/O problems and bring their products to market. Rambus`s interface solutions can be found in numerous computing, consumer, and communications products and applications. Rambus is headquartered in Los Altos, Calif., with regional offices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Taiwan and Japan. Additional information is available at www.rambus.com.

So geht`s besser
SS
nicht mal Hager glaubt noch an eine Settlement,Payne gibt IFX einfach zu gute Chancen...
:mad::mad::mad:

Patent Fights a Necessary Evil in Technology Innovation




Although the Rambus litigation has been exceptionally rancorous and filled with legal twists and turns, there is a nothing unusual about a technology company dependent on the strength of its innovation being in an infringement battle. Allegations of monopoly, abuse of standard setting and antitrust are also not unique to Rambus in the history of patent litigation.




In a real sense, industries with established manufacturers generally will have companies that do not go down without a fight when dealing with companies claiming dominant intellectual property positions and seeking to earn a return from patent licensing. Often that fight involves asserting their own infringement claims and seeking to negotiate a settlement. Since Rambus does not manufacture products the latter path is foreclosed as a remedy.




Certainly the JEDEC standard setting episode has been a learning experience for Rambus. Rambus has since avoided the risk associated with standard setting activity despite having interest in areas that are clear technology markets for the company. These areas include standard development in high speed backplane solutions and PCI express.




Several examples of companies with dominant intellectual property exist in the companies of the Hager portfolios. Qualcomm (QCOM) has a patent litigation history with a host of companies including Motorola, Phillips, Ericsson, and Texas Instruments. In the case of Qualcomm, more often than not, patent litigation cases have resulted in licensing settlements before the patent litigation runs full course. Rambus (RMBS) has also had some success in licensing and settled litigation having licensed Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, Elpida, Hitachi, and others. Rambus however has fixed payments (not royalty payments) agreements with Samsung pending litigation results. In the case of Rambus’ litigation with Infineon, although motivations for settlement exist, we believe the judge has held out so much hope for Infineon to prevail on its counterclaims of Rambus trickery that settlement is elusive at best at the present stage.
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