Articles: Memory

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In the past 10 years the phenomenon of the Rambus Company has grown too significant to be ignored, but at the same time too complex to be comprehended at large. So, we will only concern ourselves with one aspect of the company's activities. The one that directly affected the PC industry and made the whole computer and computer-related world talk about it. It is the timeline of the passed events that we offer, but the dates conceal a thrilling story of high hopes and bitter disappointments. Let's live it through.

1990: Let's get started

Let's live through the past ten years or even more. The company was founded in March 1990 by two quite respectable persons from the well-known universities: Dr. Mike Farmwald from Illinois and Dr. Mark Horowitz from Stanford. Rather an ordinary microelectronics start-up, to tell the truth. The industry has seen a number of such companies, 99% of which are either dying off or being bought up by big sharks. But the way of Rambus was very violent from the beginning, although not suggesting the storm that was about to break loose.

A month after its foundation, in April 1990, the company applies for a patent for a technology developed by Rambus. The application was not satisfied, but the peculiarities of the US patent system are such that all subsequent additions and applications of Rambus in the wake of the original one were considered as if filed in 1990. Let's remember this fact as it turned to be of great importance in the events that were to happen.

1992-1995: The way of Rambus

In the events that were to happen, Rambus, as any memory maker, couldn't pass round JEDEC - the organization for collaborative development of electronics components. One of its 48 committees (the 42nd, to be exact) deals with the development of specifications for new DRAM types. The process was slow, though. Rambus representatives were first present at a JC-42 meeting in the end of 1990 and the official entering into JEDEC happened only in July 1992. By that time Rambus had already gained some fame: in March its new Rambus DRAM was licensed by Fujitsu, Toshiba and NEC.

Well, Rambus was interested not only in its own standard. That year the company votes against the ratified SDRAM standards on four JEDEC meetings (the overall climate was quite favorable: Nintendo announced that it was going to use RDRAM in its new game console). It was getting even more interesting: as the JEDEC statutes required the voting members to disclose all their patents concerning the ratified standards, September 1995 Rambus refused to vote on SyncLink and RamLink technologies without producing any reasons. The reason was quite simple, though: the company had already patented those technologies.

More to that, JEDEC's statute, Rambus's business plan and its chief officers' talk contradicted one another. The statute required showing the cards up while the company executives said that it had already been done, but only with respect to RDRAM technologies. As for the patents dealing with SDRAM, Rambus kept silent: it hadn't got them yet. And now a quote from the company's business plan, dating back to June 12, 1992:

"[We believe in] Sync DRAMs infringing on some claims in our filed patents; and there are additional claims we can file for our patents that cover features of Sync DRAMs. Then we will be in position to request patent licensing [fees and royalties] from any manufacturer of Sync DRAMs. Our action plan is to determine the exact claims and file the additional claims by the end of Q3 '92. Then to advise Sync DRAM manufacturers in Q4 '92".

So, during 1992-1995 the company attends JC-42 meetings, although it wouldn't normally be allowed to do so, and has every opportunity of using the ideas and concepts voiced at the gatherings. Rambus sought to have a ratified mass standard that would be based upon the patents belonging to the company. But sh-h-h-h! Don't tell anyone!

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