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Provisional deal to drop Rambus probe

MEMORY chip company Rambus Inc and European Union antitrust regulators said they had provisionally agreed yesterday that the EU would drop a probe and any fines if the company reduced its royalty rates for DRAM, or Dynamic Random Access Memory, chip patents.

The European Commission in 2007 charged Rambus with monopoly abuse, alleging that the company set "unreasonable" royalties for DRAM patents fraudulently set as industry standards.

Any company that wants to make DRAM has to pay Rambus for the design it developed. The chips are used in personal computers, servers, printers, personal digital assistants and cameras. Worldwide DRAM sales were US$34 billion last year.

Rambus said it would now cap the fees it charges for licenses over five years for certain memory types and memory controllers. The EU said Rambus had also promised that any future fee cuts would benefit the entire market.

The EU must check with other industry players that this satisfies antitrust concerns before the deal can be finalized.

This would end the company's antitrust disputes on both sides of the Atlantic over allegations of "patent abuse," where a firm deceives a standards body by keeping secret the fact that it holds patents on technology that all players will later be forced to license.

Rambus said last month that the United States Federal Trade Commission had dropped a similar probe.

Chip manufacturers claimed that Rambus was seeking royalties in the early 1990s even as it took part in industry-wide talks that set standards for chips - giving the company a monopoly over key technology patents.



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