Patent portfolio giant Rambus has been slapped down in its case against Hynix over alleged violation of its 'Barth' patents, having a previous court award of $397M overturned following the discovery it had illegally destroyed evidence prior to the case.
In his ruling on the case, which has been running since August 2000, Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California announced that the 'Barth' patent package, which Rambus claims is required licensing for anyone considering making memory products, was infringed by SK Hynix - despite all three 'Barth' patents having now been found invalid, with the last to stand being declared obvious on the grounds of prior art by the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) in January. As a result, Judge Whyte announced that SK Hynix will have to pay royalties for past usage based on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
'This is a positive result as it is consistent with what we've been seeking all along - reasonable compensation for the use of our patented inventions,' said Thomas Lavelle, senior vice president and general counsel at Rambus. 'We appreciate the Court's extensive efforts in working through years of complex arguments. While this decision does not provide SK Hynix with a going-forward licence, we are hopeful it will lead to putting this matter behind us completely and allow us to reach reasonable agreements.'
The ruling wasn't a complete victory for Rambus, however, with the US Court of Appeals announcing that the company had destroyed documents which could have helped SK Hynix's defence in the case. As a result, a court award of $397M made against Hynix back in 2009 has been rejected and the original ruling court in California asked to reduce the award to reflect the destruction of evidence.
Rambus, naturally, says it has done nothing wrong, claiming in a statement to press that 'Judge Whyte found that Rambus executed its document retention practices during a time when it reasonably anticipated litigation, and thus wilfully spoliated evidence, but also found that Rambus did not deliberately destroy documents it knew to be damaging.'
That 'spoilation' is likely to severely reduce the amount of money Rambus can receive from SK Hynix over the 'Barth' infringement, and the invalidation of all three patents mean the company will struggle to force other memory makers to agree to similar licensing programmes. That latter will come as a relief to companies that have not yet been targeted, but not to Broadcom and Nvidia who both agreed to settle cases brought by Rambus last year on the assumption that the 'Barth' patent package was valid.