Intel's push into the Pentium 4 depends on it, Micron's lucrative deal for DDR memory hinges on it, the Xbox depends on it, and the future of memory technology in the PC hangs on it too.
And exactly what is it, in this case? The answer is the legal struggle between Rambus, Infineon, Hyundai and Micron over whether the first party owns the patents to two types of memory. If it does, the three other parties will have to pay Rambus to license synchronous DRAM and double data rate (DDR) technology.
A whole lot of other PC players may also have to do so as well.
Now that Infineon has filed its papers in its up-and-coming legal case against Rambus Inc, it seems that the whole thing may hang on whether or not someone from the Mountain View firm said or did not say anything at one or more JEDEC meetings many moons back.
Rambus bases its legal case against Infineon, Hyundai, Micron and anyone else who it might sue now or in the future, on the fact that it owns patents on double data rate (DDR) and synchronous memory and that people will have to pay royalties because of that. The question that it owns patents on its own Rambus proprietary memory model is in no doubt whatever.
The Micron case, serendipitously similar to the Infineon and Hyundai cases, is rather neatly summed up at these pages here.
The Infineon and Hyundai legal dockets, however, are now in the public domain, thanks to the Rambusite message boads, and it is clear from these papers, and from the Rambus refutations therein, that the legal arguments, which will be rehearsed in detail in different court rooms during the course of this year, depend on whether Rambus should have told other JEDEC members it had made the decision to apply for patents for SDRAM and DDR.
The Infineon docket 57, which you can also find on the Rambusite, pages 19 to 21, suggests that Rambus Ink felt itself under no obligation to say anything.
During meetings of JEDEC, when SDRAM and DDR were discussed, Rambus members present said nothing, very loudly.
Lawyers, and for that matter judges, will need to decide whether the fact that Rambus said nothing during JEDEC meetings should be held against it. We've often found ourselves in meetings where we just listened, said nothing, but thought about plenty of things. Is it then, a crime not to speak?
Rambus' stance is that the minute JEDEC changed its rules about speaking forth on such matters, suits from the firm stood up and started speaking at length and in volume.
As one of the Rambus Shorty Longs pointed out on an investor board, antitrust legislation and all the rest of that stuff is just so much tommy rot.
Later this year, judges will be forced to cut this Gordian Knot and the whole direction of the PC industry may then well hang on this Zen-like legal argument.
Until then, Micron, Via, Intel, Microsoft, Rambus, AMD, every PC manufacturer, every mobo maker and every consumer on the face of the planet will just have to wait. It's the sound of silence. ®