ITC probes Apple memory supplier for patent infringement

ITC probes Apple memory supplier for patent infringement

Netlist claims it has attempted to license its DRAM technology to SK hynix

The International Trade Commission (ITC) has opened a patent infringement investigation on SK hynix, the world's second largest memory chip manufacturer, based on claims that it infringed on six U.S. patents.

Second only to Samsung in global market share for DRAM shipments, Hynix is also the world's fifth-largest semiconductor company. SK hynix memory is used by Apple in some MacBook and MacBook Pro computers and in its iPhones. The memory is also in Asus' Nexus 7 tablet.

SK hynix did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company, which has more than 17,000 employees, has been ramping up its memory production. Last year, it announced a $38.9 billion investment to build three new semiconductor fabrication plants by 2024.

In September, Irvine, Calif.-based Netlist filed a patent infringement complaint against SK hynix with the ITC in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, claiming SK hynix had infringed on patents related to RDIMM and LRDIMM enterprise memory products.

Founded in 2000, Netlist has 87 employees and has so far this year pulled in $8 million in revenue.

Netlist claims it has been in discussions with SK hynix over the past year to license its intellectual property.

RDIMM (Registered Dual in-line memory module) and LRDIMM (Load Reduced Dual in-line memory module) are typically higher capacity memory modules that include a buffer between the bus and DRAM.

Netlist claims "during discussions" it provided SK hynix with "strong evidence" that their RDIMM and LRDIMM products -- among others -- use its patented technologies and it offered to license the intellectual property to them.

"Unfortunately, we have made no meaningful progress towards resolution despite our best efforts, including months of substantive exchanges and negotiation," Netlist said in a statement.

Hong said his company remains willing to negotiate a resolution with SK hynix.

Netlist is asking the ITC and District Court to ban SK hynix from importing their RDIMM and LRDIMM products into the U.S.

The ITC's investigation also includes the Korean company's wholly owned subsidiaries SK hynix America Inc. and SK hynix memory solutions Inc.

"We are pleased with the ITC's decision to investigate the unfair trade practices of SK hynix based on the unauthorized importation of our patented technologies," Netlist CEO C.K. Hong said in a statement. "We are disappointed that SK hynix has been unwilling to negotiate in good faith toward a resolution which fairly compensates Netlist for our valuable intellectual property."

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