Judge Tosses Sun, Unisys Suit Over Memory Chip Price

A federal judge has tossed out an antitrust lawsuit filed against seven memory chip makers, but left the door open for the complaining customers to revive the case with more detailed price-fixing allegations.

Sun Microsystems Inc. spokeswoman Kathy Engle said Monday the company would refile the lawsuit.

Sun and Unisys Corp. sued the South Korea-based Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and six other companies Sept. 1, accusing the dynamic random access memory chip makers of conspiring to charge artificially high prices from 1997 to 2002.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled Thursday that the lawsuit needs to precisely detail and separate allegations of damages that occurred inside and outside the United States. Hamilton gave Unisys and Sun until May 4 to file an amended lawsuit.

Sun and Unisys also named in their lawsuit Taiwanese manufacturers Mosel Vitelic Inc., Nanya Technology Corp. and Winbond Electronics Corp.; Japan's Elpida Memory Inc. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp.; and Germany's Infineon Technologies AG.

"We would like to refrain from making any comment that may affect the suit," said Harumasa Hirano, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Electric. Hideki Saito, a spokesman for Elpida Memory, said his company could not comment on the ongoing case.

Unisys also declined comment.

The chips, known as dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, are used in an array of gadgets, including personal computers, printers, digital cameras, video recorders, video game equipment and cellular phones.

The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating price-fixing allegation in the so-called DRAM market ever since prices soared 95 percent in less than two months in late 2001. Four companies including Hynix and 17 people have been charged and the Justice Department has secured fines totaling more that $731 million in the probe.

Four executives each from Hynix, Samsung Electronics Ltd. and Infineon have pleaded guilty or agreed to do so.

Hynix, the world's second-largest DRAM manufacturer, has been involved in a rash of litigation and international disputes over memory chip production.

Last month, the Icheon, South Korea-based company and Japan's Toshiba Corp. ended a legal feud over NAND flash memory chips by signing agreements to share semiconductor patents and products.

NAND chips are used in digital cameras, music players including Apple Inc.'s iPod Nano, handheld computers and memory cards.

In 2003, the United States levied a duty of 44.29 percent and the European Union slapped a 34.8 percent tariff on Hynix's DRAM chips, alleging that government-affiliated banks had subsidized Hynix's production via low-interest loans.

The World Trade Organization ruled in 2005 that some of the South Korean government's financial support for Hynix was illegal, citing restructuring loans and debt-for-equity swaps made by state-controlled banks when the company was on the verge of collapse.

South Korea and Japan are also locking horns at the WTO after Tokyo last year imposed import duties on Hynix DRAM chips.


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