Lexar cites patent breach to bar Toshiba flash chips

Lexar Media Inc. filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday that seeks to bar import and sale of some Toshiba Corp. NAND flash memory chips and products containing them, it said.

The complaint alleges that a number of Toshiba flash memory chips infringe upon three Lexar patents and asks the ITC to investigate these claims. Lexar has requested the ITC issue an order prohibiting import into the U.S. of a number of Toshiba NAND flash memory chips and instruct retailers and distributors to remove from shelves and destroy products containing the chips, it said in a statement.

Toshiba in Tokyo declined to immediately comment.

NAND flash is the type of memory found in memory cards for use in products like digital still cameras. Its ability to retain data when there is no power means it is being increasingly employed in all kinds of digital electronics products. This has sparked intense competition between the handful of companies that produce NAND flash chips.

Lexar’s ITC complaint comes a year after a court in California found Toshiba guilty of a number of actions including theft of trade secrets. The court ordered Toshiba to pay Lexar about US$465 million in compensation. In December last year Toshiba succeeded in winning a reconsideration of the damages claim and filed an appeal seeking to overturn the original guilty verdict.

Timing for the court’s review of the damages hasn’t been set and depends on the process of an ongoing appeal, said Diane Carlini, a spokeswoman for Lexar.

Behind the battle is a one-time partnership that went sour. Toshiba invested $3 million in Lexar in 1997 and the two companies began working together on flash memory technology.

Toshiba also gained a seat on Lexar’s board of directors and for two and a half years gained access to the company’s product plans and technology while at the same time working with Lexar rival SanDisk Corp., according to Lexar.

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