Rambus has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California accusing Nvidia of infringing on its high-speed memory designs. Rambus claims that graphics processors and chipsets in six different Nvidia product lines infringe on 17 Rambus memory technology patents.
"Graphics and multimedia products require leading-edge memory performance, and as Nvidia advances its product portfolio, it infringes more and more of our patents," said Tom Lavelle, senior vice president and general counsel at Rambus. "We are left with no other recourse than litigation to protect and seek fair compensation for the use of our patented inventions."
Rambus said it is seeking injunctive relief barring current and future infringements, together with monetary damages. The company also claims to have long attempted to resolve the matter out of court, but without success.
"For more than six years, we have diligently attempted to negotiate a licensing agreement with Nvidia, but our good-faith efforts have been to no avail," Lavelle said. "Nevertheless, we hope to continue discussions with Nvidia to reach a negotiated settlement."
Nvidia said it was only notified by Rambus about the new lawsuit on the day of its filing. "It's now pending litigation, so we can't make any comments, but we will look at the complaint and respond to it accordingly," said Nvidia spokesperson Calisa Cole.
Lavelle said Rambus first filed a patent application for its memory technology in 1990 and proceeded to teach the industry how to apply that technology, subject to nondisclosure agreements. By invitation, Rambus later joined an industry standard-setting organization called the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) that was developing a DRAM standard.
Memory makers such as Hynix Semiconductor, Micron Technology and Nanya Technology later claimed that Rambus improperly used its membership in JEDEC to establish a monopoly over the technology.
Rambus has had to endure years of uncertainty, lost business and enormous legal fees in defending its memory patents, but recently the tide has turned in its favor, Lavelle said. For example, last April the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust decisions regarding charges that Rambus unlawfully monopolized markets, he said.
The appellate court, which ruled that the FTC had failed to demonstrate that Rambus' conduct was exclusionary, expressed serious concerns about the strength of the evidence relied on to support some of the FCC's findings, Lavelle said.
"As we have contended all along, Rambus did nothing wrong during its participation in the JEDEC standard-setting organization, and the Court of Appeals has confirmed our point of view," Lavelle said. "This decision, especially combined with the jury verdict in March reaching the same conclusion, should put the issue to rest and allow us to focus on running our business."
The March jury verdict to which Lavelle refers cleared the way for Rambus to claim $133.6 million in damages from Hynix Semiconductor as the outcome from a court verdict issued in April 2006. However, Rambus must still contend with a formal statement of objections issued by the European Commission in April 2007 that alleges Rambus violated European Union competition law.
"These are largely the same issues examined by a number of U.S. courts, the FTC, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," Lavelle said.