Thomas Lavelle’s decision to take the top legal post at Rambus Inc. might surprise some. After all, why would anyone give up a general counsel job at Xilinx Inc., an $8 billion company with more than 3,000 employees, the world’s largest maker of programmable computer chips, for the GC slot at a company one-tenth the size, with a laundry list of legal troubles?

Rambus, based in Los Altos, Calif., designs high-speed computer memory chips and makes money solely on licensing its technology. Since 2000, Rambus has been embroiled in a series of bitter patent battles with several giant microchip manufacturers that refused to license the company’s chip design and accused Rambus of illegally obtaining its patents during the development of the industry chip memory standard in the early 1990s. In April, Rambus obtained a jury award of $307 million against Ichon, South Korea�based Hynix Semiconductor Inc. for infringing its patents.