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Judge Hesitates to Toss Rambus Patent-Infringement Cases
Shredding evidence cost Rambus Inc. its patent infringement case against memory chip maker Micron Technology Inc. in Delaware last month. But it won't hurt Rambus in a similar patent case against three other defendants in San Jose, Calif. -- at least for now.
San Jose federal Judge Ronald Whyte tentatively denied motions for summary judgment from chip makers Hynix Semiconductor Inc., Samsung and Nanya Technology Corp. at a hearing Friday. The three companies had argued that because Delaware federal Judge Sue Robinson found Rambus' patents unenforceable against Micron on Jan. 9 -- on the grounds that the company destroyed documents in anticipation of litigation -- Whyte should do the same for them.
"The nature of the destruction of evidence is the same as to everybody," said Robert Freitas, a lawyer for Nanya from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. "The destruction of evidence affects the manufacturers in the same way."
Whyte had previously found the spoliation claim wasn't grounds to throw out Rambus' case against Hynix. He has yet to rule on the issue with Samsung or try it with Nanya. Whyte said the different findings made it inappropriate to find the patents unenforceable against the three companies.
"Collateral estoppel should not be applied because of the inconsistency of the different courts' views of the evidence," Whyte said. Whyte did tentatively grant Micron's motion for summary judgment in the San Jose case.
The hearing was just another twist in a decade-long fight between Rambus, which holds computer memory patents, and companies like Hynix and Samsung, which make the chips. The issue of whether Rambus destroyed evidence leading up to its lawsuits has surfaced time and again in the courtroom battle.
This latest dispute over spoliation, arising when Robinson issued her order, has delayed trial in San Jose between Rambus and the manufacturers. Whyte said Friday that he would make a final ruling on the motions for summary judgment early this week. At press time, with the hearing still going, it was not clear whether the trial would go ahead as planned. At Friday's hearing, much time was devoted to discussing how best to package the spoliation issue for appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. All the parties want the appeals court to decide whether Robinson or Whyte is right about spoliation and settle the matter once and for all.
The hearing was, like all Rambus hearings, a sellout. Avid Rambus investors packed the courtroom, trying to find some reason to buy or sell. Lawyers also crowded in.
Rambus is represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson and Sidley Austin. Samsung and Micron are represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Hynix by O'Melveny & Myers; and Nanya by Orrick.