Memory chip company Rambus Inc and EU antitrust regulators said yesterday they had provisionally agreed that the EU would drop a probe and any fines if the company reduced its royalty rates for Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) memory chip patents.
The European Commission charged Rambus with monopoly abuse in 2007, alleging that the company set “unreasonable” royalties for DRAM patents fraudulently set as industry standards.
Any company that wants to make DRAM has to pay Rambus for the design it developed. Rambus said it would now cap the fees it charges for licenses over five years for certain memory types and memory controllers.
The EU said Rambus had also promised that any future fee cuts would benefit the entire market. Worldwide DRAM sales were US$34 billion last year.
The EU must check with other industry players that this satisfies antitrust concerns before the deal can be finalized.
This would end the company’s antitrust disputes on both sides of the Atlantic over allegations of patent abuse. Rambus said last month that the US Federal Trade Commission had dropped a similar probe.
Chip manufacturers said that Rambus was seeking royalties in the early 1990s even as it took part in industry-wide talks that set standards for chips that were to be made mandatory — giving the company a monopoly over key technology patents.
Los Altos, California-based Rambus has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Rambus was last year cleared of these charges by a US federal court that dismissed legal action by chipmakers Micron Technology Inc of the US, Hynix Semiconductor Inc. of South Korea, and Nanya Technology Corp (南亞科技) of Taiwan.
They said Rambus had deliberately withheld information from the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council, which counted Rambus as a member as it established guidelines for the computer memory industry.
The European Commission said standard setting bodies “should be encouraged to design clear rules” that foster the open, transparent and nondiscriminatory selection of standards.
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