Tokyo, JAPAN — NEC Corp., the world’s second-largest chipmaker, said that it has signed a new chip licensing agreement with Rambus Inc., a developer of technology to speed the performance of memory chips.
Santa Clara, Calif-based Rambus holds more than 100 U.S. and foreign patents which it has licensed to over 30 semiconductor companies. Similar patent agreements were signed in June by NEC’s rivals Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd.
Rambus was hit last month by two lawsuits filed by U.S.-based memory chipmaker Micron Technology Inc and Korea-based Hyundai Electronics Industries Co Ltd., alleging Rambus violated antitrust laws and rejecting Rambus’ claims they owed it patent royalties.
Rambus – fast on its way to becoming the world’s most profitable computer chip franchise – filed a counter-lawsuit in Europe against those two chipmakers.
Analysts said NEC’s move had been expected since Toshiba first broke ranks in signing a licensing agreement with Rambus, but the news would still give a boost to Rambus and may prompt other chipmakers to follow suit.
“Japanese chipmakers prefer paying royalties to going to court with the risk of losing, and they would rather save time to move on with developing new chips,” Mami Indo, senior analyst at Daiwa Research Institute said. “Overseas makers may eventually have to make similar agreements.”
Under the latest agreement, which covers synchronous dynamic random access memory chips, or SDRAMs, Double Data Rate (DDR) and next-generation RDRAM (Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory), NEC will pay royalties to use Rambus’s designs.
The agreement expands collaboration since 1991 under which NEC develops, manufactures and markets RDRAM and Rambus ASIC Cell (RAC) memory devices.
The pact also includes the joint development of next-generation Direct RDRAM, which would deliver a 33 percent frequency improvement from the current 800 MHz RDRAM in memory applications, it said in a statement. Financial terms of the pact were not disclosed.
“We have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with NEC,” said Geoff Tate, Rambus’ chief executive officer. “We are pleased to extend the cooperation between our two companies by agreeing to develop and market the next-generation Direct RDRAM.
As part of this larger strategic agreement, NEC and Rambus also signed an agreement covering patents for fundamental aspects of high-speed memory interfaces invented by Rambus, which are currently being implemented in SDRAM, DDR SDRAM memory and controllers that directly interface with those types of memory devices.