Rambus Gets Patently Busted

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January was not kind to Rambus (NAS: RMBS) . The memory technologist started 2012 on a high note by boosting revenue guidance for the just-completed quarter, but the good news didn't last. Last week, the company took a one-two punch of disappointing earnings numbers (yes, despite the rosy revenue picture) and the loss of another key patent. Share prices soared as much as 20% when the upcoming report still seemed like good news, but quickly collapsed back to the starting point.

The wheels are falling off this bandwagon. With the latest patent ruling, all three of the so-called Barth patents have now been overturned by the Patent Office. These claims are central to the patent infringement cases Rambus filed against a long list of tech titans with NVIDIA (NAS: NVDA) , Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , and Broadcom (NAS: BRCM) at the top.

NVIDIA and Broadcom have already settled at least part of their respective cases; with key patents now in the dustbin, you have to wonder if the settlements could be appealed, overturned, or otherwise revoked. At the very least, HP doesn't seem likely to sign big checks to Rambus anytime soon.

The patent invalidations are not totally final, and Rambus might be able to get them reinstated. However, that appeal would go back to a lower level of the Patent Office, which is not very likely to challenge the decision of a higher patent body. Then the last recourse would be the Federal courts. Rambus is very familiar with that venue, but it's not a fast process.

Rambus doesn't turn a profit without large legal victories, and its reputation for aggressive litigation probably doesn't do the company any favors when it looks for licensees to its technologies. And the legal offensive isn't working out too well right now. Not only are those core patents fading away, but Rambus also lost a high-profile, multibillion-dollar antitrust suit against memory makers Micron Technology (NAS: MU) and Hynix last November.

The Rambus army is running out of ammunition. Why would HP, NVIDIA, or anyone else settle anything now, when Rambus loses just about every battle it fights?

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At the time this article was published

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