High-speed memory interface technology provider Rambus this week filed a lawsuit in US district court accusing Hitachi of infringing on patented technology in some of its key semiconductor products.
The suit, filed in the US Federal District Court in Delaware, seeks to bar Hitachi from manufacturing, selling or importing many of its conventional memory chips, such as SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory) chips, DDR (double data rate) SDRAM chips, and its SH series microprocessors which are widely used in handheld computers and Windows CE devices.
Reacting to the news, a Hitachi spokesman said the company had not received a copy of the complaint in Tokyo and so could not comment on the matter.
Hitachi is one of about 30 companies that has licensed Rambus' high speed memory interface technology. Many memory makers begrudgingly began supporting Rambus DRAM chips after being pushed by Intel, which favours the system over conventional SDRAMs or DDR SDRAMs of the type named in the lawsuit.
In some cases, Intel had to provide money to semiconductor makers to produce the chips and ensure a stable supply of the memories needed for manufacturers to begin employing the devices.
Hitachi, while having licensed the technology from Rambus, has yet to produce a single Rambus DRAM -- a point made by Rambus in its statement and something that may be the root of the lawsuit, according to Yukari Yamada, a memory analyst at GartnerGroup in Tokyo.
"That is the big problem for Rambus right now," she said. "[Hitachi] got a licence but they aren't producing them so Rambus doesn't understand why Hitachi is not making them. They are trying to force Hitachi to produce the Rambus chips."
Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with research firm Insight 64 in Saratoga, California, also noted the relationship between the two companies and said, "Hitachi has been one of the more vocal DRAM vendors in terms of not being on board with the Rambus DRAM program while basically singing its praises."
But he highlighted Rambus' choice to accuse Hitachi of infringing its patents in its conventional memory chips and microprocessors and said that might lead to bigger ambitions by the US company. "It's my understanding that Rambus believes its technology affects every DRAM in the world," he said. "The other issue in terms of companies pursuing intellectual property rights like this is, you find someone you believe might be infringing and if you win your suit with them, the other folks will fall in line."
In its statement, Rambus said it was suing Hitachi after the company ignored repeated attempts to discuss the alleged patent infringements.
Spokespersons for NEC and Fujitsu, both major memory makers, said yesterday their companies had not been contacted by Rambus regarding infringements associated with the types of chips named in the suit and were not currently paying the company any licensing fees in regard to the products.
"This is the first time we have resorted to filing a suit," said Avo Kanadjian, vice president of worldwide marketing at Rambus. "We had [an internal] meeting in 1999 where we went over the infringement analysis and we wanted to follow up that meeting with further discussions with Hitachi, but Hitachi did not reply to our repeated requests."
"What we are objecting to is the fact that our intellectual property was used without our permission for non-Rambus compatible products," he added.
Specifically, Rambus named Hitachi's PC100 SDRAM, PC133 SDRAM, DDR SDRAM (double data rate SDRAM), SGRAM (synchronous graphics RAM) and DIMM modules, as well as Hitachi's SH-2, SH-3, SH-4 and SH-5 microprocessors.
Rambus said the chips infringe on four patents disclosed by the company in 1990, covering fundamental technology related to synchronous memory devices.