Micron told to pay $445M in memory patent infringement case

Case brought by Netlist involved DRAM modules in computer systems

Chipmaker Micron is being ordered to cough up a total of $445 million after losing a patent litigation case involving memory module technology brought by rival Netlist.

The jury in the case, heard in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, found that Micron had infringed on two of Netlist's patents corresponding to US Patent numbers 7,619,912 and 11,093,417.

According to the verdict form filed by the court, the jurors awarded netlist $425 million for infringement against the '912 patent, and a further $20 million for infringement of the '417 patent.

In the document, the jury also indicated it believed the infringement was wilful on Micron's part, which could allow Netlist to request that the total damages awarded be increased by up to three times.

Both patents in question cover methods for improving the performance or capacity of DRAM memory modules in computer systems. The '912 patent, first filed in 2007, describes a memory module decoder, while the '417 patent, first filed in 2019, describes a memory module using data buffering.

Netlist, which was founded in 2000 and is headquartered in Irvine, California, describes itself as "a leading provider of high-performance modular memory subsystems to the world's premier OEMs." Meanwhile, Micron, based in Boise, Idaho, is one of the big three global memory makers, behind Samsung and SK hynix.

Neither Micron nor Netlist was immediately available to respond to our requests for comment on the outcome, but Netlist's attorney, Jason Sheasby of Irell & Manella LLP, told legal news service Law360: "We are grateful for the jury's service, and their recognition of the importance of Netlist's innovation."

Also according to Law360, the jury verdict follows a decision by the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in April that one of the claims in Netlist's '912 patent is invalid, which could affect the amount of damages the company can collect.

Micron had argued that the PTAB decision invalidated the '912 patent, but the judge ruled that this could be reversed on appeal, and in any case it did not affect the validity of the '417 patent.

Netlist also this month won a case against Samsung in California regarding a joint Development and License Agreement going back to 2015. The jury in that litigation found that Samsung had breached the agreement and it should no longer have a license to Netlist's patent portfolio.

This followed a separate case last year between Netlist and Samsung, which resulted in Netlist being awarded $303 million in damages relating to infringement of patents covering memory technologies such as HBM and DDR5.

CK Hong, Netlist's Chief Executive Officer, said of the verdict: "For 24 years, Netlist has been dedicated to developing advanced memory technologies and these patents emanate from the hard work of our engineers. This verdict marks the second time in just over a year that a jury has found willful infringement of our patents by a global semiconductor manufacturer. Juries fundamentally understand that the intentional unauthorized use of intellectual property created by others is improper. The $445 million awarded for past damages from Micron's unauthorized use underscores the immense value of Netlist's technology."

A spokesperson at Micron told The Register:

"Micron respectfully disagrees with the jury’s verdict. The vast majority of damages awarded by the jury were based on Netlist’s ’912 patent, which was already declared invalid by the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office over a month before this trial (IPR2022-00615, Paper 96). The jury’s verdict does not affect the prior ruling that Netlist’s patent is invalid. Additionally, Micron’s evidence presented during the trial demonstrates that Micron does not infringe either of the patents asserted by Netlist.

"Netlist’s ’417 patent, which reflects less than 5 percent of the damages, is also under review by the patent office after a determination that there is a reasonable likelihood it is also invalid (IPR2023-01141, Paper 7). Micron will appeal the jury’s verdict and will defend the U.S. Patent Office ruling that the ’912 patent is invalid." ®

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