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An ongoing antitrust probe by the U.S. Department of Justice has sparked a wave of lawsuits against another segment of the computer memory chip industry. Cases against companies that make, or used to make, static random access memory (SRAM) chips are piling up, with at least 14 in federal courts in California and one each in Arkansas and Tennessee. SRAM is a type of memory chip used in mobile devices, game consoles and computer circuit boards. The plaintiffs are direct purchasers, or companies that bought the chips to use in other products. They are also indirect purchasers, or consumers who bought products with SRAM chips inside. The probe echoes an earlier, widespread investigation by the DOJ involving the dynamic random access memory (DRAM) market, which resulted in a series of multimillion-dollar setttlements. The suits allege the companies violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by fixing, raising and stabilizing SRAM prices, allocating markets for SRAMs among themselves and submitting rigged bids for contracts. Indirect purchasers typically bring claims under state antitrust laws. “Lawyers all over the country are looking at this,” said Francis Scarpulla of San Francisco’s Zelle Hofmann Voelbel Mason & Gette, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in three cases. “It’s easy to find a plaintiff because it’s anyone who’s got a cellphone.” Cases started mounting in October, around the time that companies such as Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Corp. announced Justice Department investigations. DOJ spokeswoman Gina Talamona confirmed that the office is looking at anti-competitive practices in the SRAM industry and has already brought “some cases.” She declined to comment further. Companies cooperating In written statements as early as Oct. 6 for Samsung and Oct. 16 for Mitsubishi and as late as Oct. 31 for Sony, companies acknowledged their cooperation with the Justice Department’s probe, but declined to discuss the lawsuits. Samsung spokeswoman Chris Goodhart said in a statement that the company would “cooperate fully” with the Justice Department. “Samsung is strongly committed to fair competition and ethical practices and forbids anti-competitive behavior,” Goodhart said. Sony said its U.S. subsidiary, Sony Electronics Inc., “fully intends to cooperate with what appears to be an industry-wide inquiry.” Mitsubishi, which said it exited the SRAM business almost three years ago, also said it is “cooperating with DOJ in their investigation.” Joel S. Sanders of Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s San Francisco office is the sole defense lawyer listed on the newly filed SRAM cases so far. Sanders, who represents Micron Technology Inc. of Boise, Idaho, in a dozen California cases, declined to comment. Defense lawyers notified of a multidistrict litigation petition filed by several plaintiffs either declined to comment or could not be reached. Scarpulla’s lawsuit claims that the Justice Department slapped 23 companies with subpoenas in October for an investigation of alleged cartel activity from 1998 through 2005. The lawsuits allege that SRAM prices fell sharply from 1994 to 1997, but companies were reluctant to lower prices because the U.S. Court of International Trade filed a proceeding against one company for “dumping,” or unloading products at unfairly low prices in another country. Ayers v. Samsung, No. 06-06770 (N.D. Calif.). Cases against companies in the SRAM actions share many of the same players as cases in the DRAM market, said Guido Saveri of San Francisco’s Saveri & Saveri. His firm served as co-lead counsel in the DRAM litigation that led to Nov. 2 settlements of about $73 million with Hynix Semiconductor Inc. of Icheon, South Korea; $67 million with Samsung Electronics of Seoul, South Korea; and $20 million with Infineon Technologies A.G. of Munich, Germany. Trials against the other defendants, including Hitachi Ltd. of Tokyo, Micron Technology and NEC Electronics America Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., are slated for April. In re (DRAM) Antitrust Litigation, No. 02-01486 (N.D. Calif.). Defense attorney Robert E. Freitas of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Menlo Park, Calif., office, who represented Nanya Technology Corp. in a DRAM case, said the plaintiffs have no evidence that his clients acted illegally and that he has filed summary judgment motions.

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