Monday, September 29, 2008

New York Times discusses Rambus saga

A Sept. 28 piece titled Chip Maker Rambus Wins Battles, but Faces Bigger War notes the troubles faced by Rambus, in spite of its court victories. One recalls Jaffe and Lerner savaged Rambus in Innovation and its Discontents, and praised Qualcomm. In the time since the book, Rambus has been winning its cases, and Qualcomm has been losing most of its cases [Some of Qualcomm's lawyers were disciplined, and its chief counsel departed.]

But, as the Times points out, winning cases isn't always enough:

Craig Hampel, the Rambus’s most senior engineer, says it has not always been easy to work for a company that many people consider the bad guy. “I personally worry if we have the support of enough of the industry to take these great products to the market,” Mr. Hampel said. “I feel impacted by the lack of validation from the industry. So I try to focus on the technology as vindication.”

The injunction issue [recall the eBay case] comes up:

Some analysts think the recent court victories could lead some of the bigger chip makers to settle with Rambus and become paying customers, particularly if the court issues an injunction in the Hynix case. They have estimated Rambus could collect hundreds of millions, if not several billion, dollars from chip makers over the next 10 years.

The New York Times portrays an overly-expansive definition of patent troll:

Jared Bobrow, a partner with Weil Gotshal & Manges, represents Micron, a chip maker that has tangled with Rambus. “This isn’t about the industry making payment. In my view, this is nothing short of patent troll activity.” Patent troll is a derogatory term used to describe companies or individuals who make their money suing companies for patent infringement.

That Rambus’s business model has evoked such hostility in some quarters of Silicon Valley is no longer a surprise. “It’s the industry not wanting to pay someone a fee when they didn’t make anything,” said Jeff Schreiner, an analyst with Capstone Investments who has followed the litigation closely.

Of course, there is no requirement in patent law that the inventor "make" the invention. The inventor has to describe it and enable it, but does not have to make it. Once the patent is issued the inventor can exclude others from making that which he claimed. If people want to act as if the law says something else, that's a problem. Part of the problem may have been magnified by the book by Jaffe and Lerner, which incorrectly portrayed so many aspects of the patent system.

See also

The Magnitude of the Jaffe/Lerner Patent Misunderstanding Examined

Qualcomm sanctioned $8.6M on 7 Jan 08; lawyers referred to State Bar

For an additional story on the tough times for smaller chip guys, see patenthawk's story on transmeta.


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