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The Federal Trade Commission filed suit against Rambus Inc. on Wednesday, claiming the company violated antitrust rules in its participation in a standards-setting organization. The suit — only the second of its kind — is the result of the agency’s increasing scrutiny of whether companies are abusing their positions on standards-setting groups. The suit could derail several patent infringement suits that Rambus has filed against competitors. The agency said the Los Altos, Calif.-based company, which develops and licenses chip connection technology for use in the semiconductor industry, engaged in an anti-competitive scheme by failing to inform other members of the JEDEC standards-setting body that it had patent applications pending that related to computer-memory standards being set by the group. “Rambus purposefully sought to and did convey to JEDEC the materially false and misleading impression that it possessed no relevant intellectual property rights,” the FTC complaint states. The FTC cites correspondence between Rambus and its outside counsel Lester Vincent of Los Angeles-based Blakely, Sokoloff, Taylor & Zafman. The complaint says Vincent advised the company to remain silent about its patents and abstain from voting on computer-memory standards. “Rambus’ anti-competitive scheme further entailed perfecting its patent rights over these same technologies and then, once the standards had become widely adopted within the DRAM [dynamic random access memory] industry, enforcing such patents worldwide against companies manufacturing memory products in compliance with the standards,” the suit says. The FTC is seeking an order to prevent Rambus from enforcing some of its computer-memory patents. Rambus has filed patent infringement suits against several companies, including Infineon Technologies AG. About 30 companies have licensed rights to Rambus’ computer memory technology. In the Infineon case, a Virginia federal court last year overturned a jury verdict that found Rambus had committed fraud in its participation in the standards-setting body. The court upheld a fraud verdict on a Rambus technology and also found that Infineon had not infringed Rambus’ patent. Both parties appealed the rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which heard arguments June 3. Rambus’ general counsel questioned Wednesday why the FTC had not waited until the Federal Circuit issued its ruling before deciding to file suit. “Our sense is even though they didn’t wait for the decision, they have to take it into account,” said Rambus General Counsel John Danforth. Danforth said Rambus did not violate the JEDEC’s disclosure requirements. None of the company’s patent claims “read on the standard,” he said, meaning the claims weren’t related to the standards set by the group, nor did pending applications have claims that read on the standard. While the FTC has investigated several companies regarding their role on standards-setting bodies, Dell Computer Corp. is the only other company ever charged with antitrust violations for failing to disclose patents during the standards-setting process. Some IP attorneys believe the FTC suit will embroil Rambus in further litigation. Often after the FTC brings an antitrust matter such as this you will see follow-on private litigation,” said M. Howard Morse, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Drinker Biddle & Reath. “Rambus could soon find themselves facing class action litigation seeking treble damages.”

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