(Adds Nanya comments, Samsung shares)
By Marie-France Han and Rhee So-eui
SEOUL, March 27 (Reuters) - Memory chip makers including Hynix Semiconductor Inc (000660.KS) are considering filing appeals in a long-running court battle over Rambus Inc’s (RMBS.O) patents after a U.S. jury verdict favoured the U.S. technology developer.
At stake is at least hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties Rambus could collect from its memory chip technologies.
In a trial between Rambus and chip manufacturers including Hynix, Micron Technology Inc MU.N and Nanya Technology Corp (2408.TW), a jury found that Rambus did not violate antitrust laws or commit fraud in its attempt to protect patents.
A final decision from the court is pending.
Rambus said on Wednesday that the jury verdict should complete the case involving Hynix.
Hynix, the world’s No. 2 memory chip maker, said it was “deeply disappointed” and would appeal if the court ultimately ruled against it.
“Hynix will respond with all available legal means including an appeal to a higher court, if the (final ruling) comes unfavourably,” it said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Nanya said: “We are very disappointed with the court ruling and we’re considering an appeal.”
Micron, the biggest U.S. memory chip maker, also said on Wednesday it would appeal, saying Rambus’ patents were invalid and therefore unenforceable.
Analysts have estimated Rambus could eventually collect royalties of anywhere from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars over the next decade. It is not yet clear when Rambus might receive any back royalties.
“Hynix is expected to file an appeal and to have the award reduced,” said James Song, an analyst at Daewoo Securities. Song was referring to a 2006 court judgment against Hynix that resulted in a $133.6 million award for Rambus.
“Still, this cannot be good news as the direction of the legal case has been set.” he said.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission had ruled in August 2006 that Rambus unlawfully monopolised markets for four memory chip technologies and distorted industry standards for dynamic random access memory (DRAM).
Memory chip shares came under pressure following the verdict overnight. Hynix shares fell 3.21 percent to 25,600 won by 0544 GMT, compared with the wider market’s .KS11 0.33 percent loss.
Sector leader Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), which is not involved in the case, also lost 1.8 percent to 601,000 won on concerns about future royalty costs.
Nanya dropped 1.94 percent, in line with the main TAIEX share index .TWII which fell 1.85 percent.
“This is likely to only have a one-day impact,” said Cho Huyng-soo, an analyst at Samsung Securities.
Cho said the impact of the $133.6 million award could be limited as Hynix made provisions of about $100 million in 2006 with the Rambus case in mind.
Memory chip makers have been struggling with oversupply and collapsing prices for DRAM chips.
The sector’s profitability problems have been compounded by steep price falls in NAND flash chips, used in portable electronics.
Hynix is expected to post large losses in the first and second quarter, but could breakeven in the third quarter if the market regains its balance.
A much-awaited turnaround in the memory market hinges on expected capital spending cuts by cash-starved manufacturers.
Hynix, which had initially said it would invest 3.6 trillion won ($3.62 billion) in 2008, said talks are still ongoing whether to maintain the investment target.
“There have been no decisions made regarding a capex reduction,” James Kim, head of investor relations, told Reuters.
“The company recently decided that its absolute minimal amount of investment for 2008 would be around 2.6 trillion won. There is discussion as to whether to maintain the capex target for the second half but talks are still ongoing.” ($1=994.3 Won) (Additional reporting by Sheena Lee in Taipei) (Editing by Keiron Henderson)