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Rambus Attacks Open Interfaces: DisplayPort, PCI Express, Serial ATA

Rambus, a designer of memory and interface technologies and also one of the most hated company in the technology industry, on December 1, 2010, did something completely unimaginable. It accused a number of companies - including the leading designer of chips that power broad range of electronics applications - of infringement of patents that concern open industrial standards, including DisplayPort, PCI Express, Serial ATA and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS).

The formal complaint of Rambus was filed with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) requesting the commencement of an investigation pertaining to products from Broadcom Corp., Freescale Semiconductor., LSI Corp., MediaTek, Nvidia Corp. and ST Microelectronics. The complaint seeks an exclusion order barring the importation and sales of products from the aforementioned companies that infringe certain patents from the Dally family of patents and Barth family of patents. Accused semiconductor products in the complaint include graphics processors, media processors, communications processors, chip sets and other logic integrated circuits (ICs).

Rambus also demanded ITC to bar importation and sales of products based on chips that it believes infringe its patents. Apparently, the company wants to stop sales of almost all electronics available today, including personal computers, workstations, servers, routers, mobile phones and other handheld devices, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, motherboards, plug-in cards, hard drives and modems.

For the Dally patents, the accused semiconductor products from these companies include ones that incorporate PCI Express, certain Serial ATA, certain Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), and DisplayPort interfaces. Ironically, but Rambus became the exclusive licensee for the Dally family of patents as a part of its 2003 acquisition of technology and IP from Velio Communications, a company founded by William Dally, the chief scientist of Nvidia.

In the case of the Barth patents, the accused semiconductor products include ones that incorporate DDR, DDR2, DDR3, mobile DDR, LPDDR, LPDDR2, and GDDR3 memory controllers.

Fortunately for the world, the ITC began formal investigation only about infringements of the Barth and Farmwald-Horowitz patents in late December. It is unclear whether the ITC will also try to investigate the infringements concerning Dally family of patents, some of which are a part of technologies used around the industry.

With the new attack Rambus did not change its rhetoric or its usual manner of making statements, but altered the actual wording. Today, the company, which has been a threat for the memory industry for many years now, does not claim that it had developed something and spent tens of millions on it. Instead, it declares openly that it had acquired certain patents secretly and waited for the industry to adopt the standards widely before claiming its rights.

“Rambus has invested hundreds of millions of dollars developing a portfolio of technologies that are foundational for many digital electronics. There is widespread knowledge within the industry about our patents including their use in standards-compatible products accused in these actions. In fairness to our shareholders and to our paying licensees, we take these steps to protect our patented innovations and pursue fair compensation for their use," said Harold Hughes, president and chief executive officer at Rambus.

Patenting a secretly while being a part of an industrial standard-setting organization is one degree of the lack of ethics. Acquiring patents secretly in a bid to demand a licensing fee from absolutely everyone in the industry is another. Well, Rambus entered a whole new level in 2010.

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