Toshiba bows to Rambus SDRAM liscensing

Rambus Inc. has added another memory chip maker, Toshiba Corp., to the stable of companies finally agreeing to pay a contentious licensing fee for its SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) and DDR (double data rate) SDRAM memory technology.

Rambus, based in Los Altos, California, called Toshiba its longest standing technology licensee in a Wednesday statement confirming the agreement. It did not disclose financial terms.

The license agreement is a victory for Rambus in its battle to force memory chip makers to pay for the use of technology in mainstream SDRAM and DDR memory chips. Most memory chip makers have been fighting Rambus over the licensing scheme, arguing it did not disclose ownership of the patents when it was a member of a memory chip industry standards making group.

Germany’s Infineon Technologies AG led the revolt against Rambus in 2000, countersuing the company for allegedly using its influence with the standards group, the Joint Electron Devices Engineering Council, to purposefully design Rambus technology into the SDRAM standard with an eye for forcing companies to pay licensing fees.

Rambus ultimately won the suit, and has since sued a number of DRAM vendors for patent violations. In April, a California jury awarded Rambus US$306.5 million in damages over a related patent suit against Hynix Semiconductor Inc. The South Korean chip maker has appealed the ruling.

Rambus has also forged a number of SDRAM licensing agreements since it won the U.S. case, including a deal with Infineon that stipulates the German chip maker will only continue payments so long as Rambus is able to sign agreements with its rivals. Infineon started paying Rambus $5.85 million per quarter last November. The payments will cease Nov. 15, 2007 unless Rambus is able to sign licensing deals with the other SDRAM vendors. Rambus stands to gain an additional $100 million from Infineon if it signs up new licensees.

Toshiba is one of the world’s premier memory chip producers, and already licenses a host of other Rambus technology, including patents related to XDR DRAM (high speed DRAM), DDR2 (double data rate, second generation), and various Rambus serial link interface designs.

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