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SAN FRANCISCO-As former general counsel for chip maker Xilinx Inc., Thomas Lavelle knows what it’s like to work for a company under legal scrutiny. That expertise may come in handy as he takes the legal reins at fellow Silicon Valley company Rambus Inc., which in recent years has faced a host of legal challenges. Both Xilinx and Rambus are among the 120-some companies to find their past stock-options grants under Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny. Xilinx, based in San Jose, Calif., acknowledged in June that the commission was looking at its books. In August, after completing an internal investigation, the company announced it had found no fraud but was taking a $2.2 million total charge to account for stock-options irregularities. Stock-options issues at Rambus, based in Los Altos, Calif., were more serious. Former CEO Geoff Tate resigned from the board in August because of the scandal, and last month, the chip technology company said its improperly dated stock-options grants would result in more than $200 million in charges. So Rambus recently announced it was hiring Lavelle as its top legal officer. CEO Harold Hughes particularly emphasized corporate compliance in a company press release. “Tom is a highly respected member of the legal community and brings tremendous experience to Rambus,” Hughes said. “Tom will provide great leadership and focus to our corporate governance and compliance initiatives.” Neither Xilinx nor Rambus spokespeople returned calls for comment. Other selling points Leading a company through troubled legal waters may be a selling point for some companies, said Carl Baier, a Silicon Valley legal recruiter. But by Baier’s estimation, Lavelle’s 15 years at Intel Corp. was probably a stronger selling point. Rambus most likely values the decades-strong reputation Intel has built as a trusted public company, Baier said. “Intel is a Silicon Valley icon,” he said. “They seem to be above the recent fray.” Lavelle replaces John Danforth, who stepped down as Rambus’ GC in July after a series of legal setbacks for the company. Earlier that month, a San Jose federal judge drastically reduced the more than $300 million in damages the company would receive after winning a patent infringement case against Hynix Semiconductor Inc. Less than a week later, a Virginia federal judge took Rambus to task in an opinion, excoriating the company for its legal strategy during the 1990s, which the judge said included shredding millions of documents while preparing to sue other companies for infringing on its chip-design patents. And in September, the Federal Trade Commission found that the company had violated antitrust law by secretly amassing patents it knew would become the industry standard for a memory chip format known as DRAM.

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