Hitachi Ltd. today claimed that it "doesn't admit the validity" of the Rambus Inc. synchronous timing patents for SDRAMs and microprocessors, which is the basis for Rambus' lawsuit against the Japanese chip maker - even while it is entering a surprising royalty licensing agreement with the U.S. design firm.
A Hitachi spokeswoman also said the firm doesn't admit to infringing any Rambus synchronous patents as alleged in three court cases.
Despite Hitachi's disclaimers, the settlement itself only escalates sharply the stakes for other big IC makers, all of which use synchronous timing features in memory, logic, chip-set and other semiconductor types. Until now, other chip makers have laid low, waiting to see how the Rambus patent suit against Hitachi developed.
Observers were waiting to see what unfolds next.
Hitachi stunned the chip industry by settling with Rambus, paying an up-front settlement fee and agreeing to pay an unspecifie d amount of quarterly royalty payments on the synchronous data rights.
Until now, Hitachi had launched a vigorous defense, charging Rambus with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act through anti-competitive pressure to preempt open industry standards on synchronous memory and logic ICs. Hitachi had also claimed that Rambus used as the basis for its patents synchronous data developed in open standards deliberations by the industry Joint Electron Devices Engineering Council.
Rambus has previously denied both allegations. Asked if Hitachi was changing its allegations against Rambus as part of the settlement, the spokeswoman declined to comment.
The Hitachi agreement comes only a week after Toshiba Corp. took out the first royalty-bearing license from Rambus on its synchronous data. The Hitachi spokeswoman said the Toshiba license had no relation to its own settlement with Rambus.
Hitachi also claimed the Rambus synchronous license had no impact on the firm's DRAM joint venture with NEC Corp. Som e analysts quickly raised eyebrows on this claim, because the DRAMs being jointly developed by NEC Hitachi Memory Inc. will undoubtedly use synchronous timing features.
By ending the legal dispute, Hitachi said the firm is now considering making Direct Rambus DRAMs under a separate license it has already taken out. Sources believed that Hitachi was targeted by Rambus in the patent suit solely because the chip maker was only minimally involved in developing any Direct RDRAM chips.
Details of both the Hitachi and Toshiba royalty licenses are not being disclosed. Danny Lam, an analyst with Fisher-Holstein Inc., Wilmington, Del., said that without any information on royalty payments, "it is impossible to make any judgments one way or the other on the impact of these licensing agreements. They could range anywhere from significant payments to virtually nothing. The suspicion is that by being the first semiconductor companies to sign licensing deals, they will get far more favorable terms than any future licensees," he said.