Rambus: The Year in Review

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2011 has not been kind to Rambus (NAS: RMBS) .

The memory technology expert came into the year on a high note, having just filed a huge patent infringement suit against Broadcom (NAS: BRCM) , NVIDIA (NAS: NVDA) , and other big chip designers. That action followed close behind a license agreement with memory-chip maker Elpida, and everything seemed to be going Rambus' way. License deals and lawsuits are two of the three pillars on which this company's fortunes rest, after all.

But the good times didn't last long. One fine day in May, Rambus shares fell as much as 24% as the antitrust suit against Micron Technology (NAS: MU) was sent back to a lower court. Rambus was caught shredding nine tons of documents that might have pertained to that case, which is tantamount to destroying evidence. That was a bad day, but worse ones still lay ahead.

The low point came in mid-November. After eight weeks of closed-door deliberations, that lower court came back with "not guilty" verdicts for Micron and Hynix. During the proceedings, Rambus investors bid up share prices in the hopes of an enormous damage award -- potentially as big as $12 billion. But they had to settle for nothing, and shares plunged through the basement floor.

That's the big one, the billion-dollar ticket to victory. The decision could still be appealed, but I haven't heard any news to that effect. Speaking at the Barclays Global Technology Conference last week, CEO Harold Hughes said that Rambus is reviewing its options for appeal. Stay tuned.

There are still plenty of legal balls in the air. Separate patent infringement cases against Hynix and Micron are coming up for hearings -- Hynix this Friday and Micron in January. Stay tuned for those, but keep in mind that the cash awards involved are much smaller than in the antitrust case.

Rambus is likely to win or settle a few of the remaining court cases, but how many or how big the payouts might be remains up in the air. In the meantime, Rambus is stepping up its research budget and acquiring firms in adjacent markets, like cryptography specialist Cryptography Research. So with or without legal victories, Rambus remains an active player on the technology scene. But the big lottery ticket looks like a loser at this point.

This company desperately wants a piece of the mobile computing action, judging by the crypto expansion and lawsuits against NVIDIA and Broadcom. You can buy Rambus on that premise -- or you can go big into NVIDIA instead, because the graphics expert is already a big name in that trillion-dollar market. Grab this free report to learn more about NVIDIA's place in the mobile universe.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Micron but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.

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