by Anton Shilov
12/09/2009 | 07:43 PM
Rambus, a leading developer of memory and interface technologies, and the European Commission (EC) on Wednesday said that they had reached a deal in the antitrust dispute. As part of the settlement, the EC makes no finding of liability, and no fine will be assessed against Rambus. Rambus, for its part, commits to offer licenses with limited royalty rates for certain memory types and memory controllers on a forward-going basis.
Rambus offers licenses with maximum royalty rates for five-year worldwide licenses of 1.5% for DDR2, DDR3, GDDR3 and GDDR4 SDRAM memory types, which is substantially lower compared to current 3.5% for DDR. The EC said that as part of the overall package, Rambus agreed to charge zero royalties for the SDR and DDR chip standards that were adopted when Rambus was a JEDEC member; Rambus itself said that this was subject to compliance with the terms of the license. Considering the fact that newer memory standards still use technologies that are parts of DDR and SDR standards, it is rather pathetic that Rambus is not forced not to charge for those particular features. Moreover, since SDR and DDR memories are not in mass production anymore, enforcing zero royalty rate on them was nearly useless.
In addition, Rambus offers licenses with maximum royalty rates for five-year worldwide licenses of 1.5% per unit for SDR memory controllers through April 2010, dropping to 1.0% thereafter, and royalty rates of 2.65% per unit for DDR, DDR2, DDR3, GDDR3 and GDDR4 memory controllers through April 2010, then dropping to 2.0%. Rambus will offer these licensing rates for the next five years.
The royalty rates are applicable to future shipments only, and do not resolve any existing claims in other cases. As a result, Rambus can still charge its existing customers more as well as companies that may eventually lose ongoing legal battles against Rambus.
On 30 July 2007, the Commission sent Rambus a statement of objections, setting out its preliminary view that Rambus may have infringed European Union competition law by abusing a dominant position in the market for DRAMs. In particular, the EC was concerned that Rambus had engaged in a so-called "patent ambush", intentionally concealing that it had patents and patent applications which were relevant to technology used in the JEDEC standard, and subsequently claiming royalties for those patents. Similar charges had been pursued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States. The FTC has closed its investigation following a series of U.S. Court rulings underlining that the allegations of Rambus’ wrongdoing were ill-founded. On June 12, 2009, the European Commission announced its intention to accept Rambus’ proposed commitments, subject to market testing as prescribed by EU law. On December 9, 2009, the EC concluded that the commitments in their final form, as modified by Rambus, are adequate to meet the competition concerns expressed in the statement of objections.
“We are pleased to have this matter closed with the commission. Following a long and detailed examination of the facts, the commission did not find that Rambus violated the law, nor did it impose any fine. For our part, we agree to offer licenses at attractive rates for customers to use our patented innovations in computing and electronics products for consumers worldwide,” said Thomas Lavelle, senior vice president and general counsel at Rambus.
"An effective standard-setting process should take place in a non-discriminatory, open and transparent way to ensure competition on the merits and to allow consumers to benefit from technical development and innovation. Abusive practices in standard setting can harm innovation and lead to higher prices for companies and consumers. For its part, the Commission will vigorously enforce the competition rules in this area, for the benefit of technical progress and European consumers,” commented Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.