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SAN JOSE � Call it deja vu. Seven months after a Virginia federal judge found chipmaker Rambus Inc. had engaged in litigation misconduct in a long-running patent dispute with one of its rivals, the Silicon Valley firm must now defend itself against the same allegations on the West Coast. At issue is whether Rambus and its lawyers purposely shredded evidence in the late 1990s at a time when it was getting ready to sue a slew of rivals for infringing one of its chip design patents. A Virginia judge ruled in March that Rambus had indeed acted against “the interests of justice” when it asked employees company-wide to shred records. The ruling led to the dismissal of Rambus’ case against German chip company Infineon Technologies AG. The two parties settled over a series of other complaints, with Infineon paying Rambus $150 million. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. is raising the same shredding argument in its patent dispute with Rambus, which is set to begin trial today before U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte. In an amended complaint filed in March, in which South Korea-based Hynix claims it was deliberately misled by Rambus about its plans to obtain patents on technology the semiconductor company was using, Hynix contended that Rambus had shredded documents that could have pertained to the case. But Rambus attorneys say they don’t expect the outcome to be the same as it was in Virginia. “[Hynix] can’t say, ‘Here’s what happened in Virginia, please rubber-stamp it,’” said John Danforth, Rambus’ general counsel. “I think we have a much more complete record here [this time].” Earlier this year, in urging Whyte to dismiss Rambus’ claims, Hynix argued that Rambus shouldn’t be allowed to relitigate the Virginia judge’s misconduct finding. Whyte denied the motion in April, setting the stage for today’s trial. “Even if the court were to find that the elements of collateral estoppel were met here, it would still, in its discretion, de-cline to apply preclusive effect to [the Virginia judge's] ruling,” Whyte wrote in his April order. Lawyers for Hynix declined to publicly comment about the litigation. The crux of the case surrounds Rambus’ so-called “Shred Days,” in which, according to e-mails produced in the Virginia litigation, employees company-wide were told to destroy documents. Rambus’ rivals accuse the Silicon Valley company of purposefully and maliciously getting rid of hundreds of pieces of potential evidence. Danforth said this is simply not the case. The company, he said, hadn’t made definite plans to file complaints against anyone when it decided to get rid of the records. In the Infineon case, Rambus argued that the document shredding was part of a routine document destruction policy that followed industry standards. The case is Hynix Semiconductor Inc. v. Rambus Inc., CV-00-20905RMW.

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