Bringing an end to a saga that has spanned over a decade and most of the life of this site, what’s widely considered the final major legal battle between Rambus and a memory manufacturer has come to an end. Burying the hatchet, Micron and Rambus ended their fight this week with Micron finally agreeing to license Rambus’s technologies and to pay royalties for their use.

According to the Wall Street Journal Micron will be paying Rambus a 0.6% royalty rate on all impacted products, which given Rambus’s wide patent holdings essentially covers all forms of DDR SDRAM and in turn impacts vast majority of Micron’s RAM offerings. The agreement will run for 7 years, with Micron having the option to renew it at that time (as some of Rambus’s patents should still be valid even in 2020). Notably the royalty rates are capped at $10 million per quarter – adding up to $280 million over the period of the 7 year agreement – so the final price tag will depend on Micron’s DRAM revenue if they end up staying under the cap.

This agreement comes just over 2 years after Rambus’s last major fight with Micron, which saw Hynix and Micron successfully defend themselves against claims by Rambus that the two were conspiring against Rambus. That ruling meant that the two firms were not liable for treble damages to Rambus, but it left the matter of patent infringement unresolved. Since then Hynix has settled with Rambus, leaving Micron as the last man standing until now.

Ultimately with the settlement of the Micron fight, Rambus has now signed licensing agreements with all of the major memory manufacturers. This means that although it’s taken the better part of a decade, Rambus has ultimately proven successful in proving that SDRAM and its descendants infringe on Rambus’s patents, allowing them to collect royalties on all of the common forms of DRAM produced today. With the last memory manufacturer now licensing their technology, the only outstanding suits (that we’re aware of) all involve companies who develop memory controllers.

With that said, this does leave the question of where Rambus goes from here. In the PC space RDRAM/XDR has long been dead, and in the console space all of the current-generation consoles are using DDR3 or GDDR5, with the remaining XDR consumption tapering off alongside the last-generation Playstation 3. But there is a very real need for faster memory technologies, especially at the very high end where NVIDIA and other GDDR5 consumers are looking at more exotic solutions such as integrating/stacking DRAM on-chip as GDDR5 reaches its own apex.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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  • Kevin G - Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - link

    While Rambus' action through the court system have proven legal, they don't sit as ethical with me. The main thing is the lack of disclosure on Rambus part when they were a member of JEDEC about their upcoming patents. There is a reason why standards bodies exist and why they have rules. This whole fiasco has set the industry back due to legal tactics.
  • tjoynt - Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - link

    Rambus' litigation was still *ahem* "controversial" because they weren't upfront with the DDR SDRAM standards body or members about their patents when the memory standard was developed. They only started suing after the DDR standard was widely accepted and their own standard (RD-RAM) was less successful in the marketplace. Since they did actually do important research in the field, they're less patent trolls than patents a-holes. :P
  • Samus - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    I appreciate RAMBUS for their contributions to memory technology, but I generally classify a company as a patent troll if they don't make a product they own a patent for, and instead wait for their competitors to make it and expect them to license it.

    That'd be like me sitting on a patent for say, a shoe insole, and as soon as Nike makes it, I'll sue them for infringement. I could have instead approached shoe manufactured with my idea and either sold the patent or licensed the idea. In most cases, RAMBUS did neither.
  • CharonPDX - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    The trick is, RAMBUS *DID* come up with their own product, it was a failure. And they demanded royalties early on, it just took this long for those demands to work their way through the legal system.

    Yes, their "stay quiet" was slimy - but they certainly didn't start out as a patent troll.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Sunday, December 15, 2013 - link

    Alright, time to set this crap straight. Rambus memory performed awful with the Intel Pentium 3 because the P3 could not take advantage of the extra speed. Moving the same Rambus RIMMS to a Pentium 4 motherboard provided a huge increase in performance, one that DDR memory took years to replicate (and not without using Rambus IP to make it happen.) Samsung was the only RAM maker to make RAMBUS RIMMS and the prices stayed high. eventually Intel gave up, and the industry has been saddled with DDR ever since.

    There is a reason that after all these years Rambus Inc. has finally won - they created great technology that an entire industry used. The fact that they had to spend million on legal fees to get the money they deserved is shameful. Rambus isn't a patent troll, they were victims on patent thieves. We need more companies like Rambus to shake up the industry - waiting on JEDEC to deliver advances in memory technology is miserably slow. Does the PC industry even care about performance anymore? It sure doesn't appear so.
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    I wonder if XDR/XDR2 will ever be in a mass consumer electronics item again. Nvidia has their stacked DRAM for bandwidth improvements, I haven't heard much from AMD yet, any news on that? XDR2 in future GPUs would be interesting...Perhaps even APUs, as I think it has lower latency for the CPU than GDDR.
  • keahou - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    FWIW, the sordid story of the Industry collusion, Antitrust activity, FTC corruption, paid shills to corrupt your mind, and more was recoreded real time on Enjoy the all time story of what really happened.
  • purerice - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    A lot of confirmation bias here. People who don't like the patent system attack the unfolding of the Rambus patent saga.
    What I don't get is how RD lost to DDR if RD really was superior. iirc, the reason I never got RDRAM based rig was because they were more expensive but the ole memory fails now and then. To me it seems that they had the better product but inferior marketing and planning.

    In a way I wish this court decision had come years ago because if it had RAM manufacturers would have worked a lot faster in creating a better standard of RAM not dependent on Rambus patents. The 0.6% royalties are in reality much larger because if you have 5% net profit margin, 0.6% royalties take out 12% of your profit.
  • cbf - Friday, December 13, 2013 - link

    Because the memory manufacturers were trying to avoid paying Rambus royalties. DDR was an attempt to engineer around the Rambus patents, which failed in the end because it still infringed on some (but not all) of the claims in the Rambus patents. Some of what Rambus patented was just hard to avoid (like using a little bit of non-volatile memory to store the timing parameters for each stick of memory)

    There was nothing intrinsically more expensive about RDRAM (and especially not XDR) -- it's just that the memory companies didn't want to make it because they thought they wouldn't need to pay royalties on DDR.

    Indeed, the sad part is that XDR and its successors were better memory technologies than DDR, DDR2, etc.
  • Tanclearas - Saturday, December 14, 2013 - link

    While RDRAM did indeed have higher bandwidth, it also had significantly higher latency. The processors of the day were much more sensitive to latency than they were in need of higher bandwidth. So the higher cost coupled with zero to negative performance difference made RDRAM quite undesirable.

    As processor and cache speeds increased, and cache sizes increased, high latencies on memory could be masked and bandwidth became increasingly important. Basically RDRAM was ahead of its time.

    That's about all I can say that's nice about Rambus. I do believe their "business tactics" are about as slimy as can be.

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