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Friday, July 14, 2006
Chipmakers Sued Over Price-fix Charges

Thirty-four U.S. states will sue seven computer memory chip makers on Friday, including Micron Technology Inc. and Infineon Technologies AG , over charges they conspired to rig the U.S. market to keep prices artificially high.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said on Thursday that he, joined by 33 other state attorneys general, will file the complaint alleging the chip makers violated state and federal antitrust laws during a conspiracy to fix prices for dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, chips, from 1998 through June 2002, when there was a glut in the market.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed a separate, but similar lawsuit in New York on Thursday that also named South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. .

The multi-state lawsuit does not name Samsung, the world's leading memory chip maker, to provide a window to reach a potential settlement, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the California attorney general.

The lawsuits follows a U.S. Justice Department probe launched in 2002 that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines levied against Samsung, Hynix, Infineon, Elpida and other chipmakers.

The federal investigation followed a sharp plunge in the prices for memory chips used in computers and other electronics, which forced a wave of industry consolidation and pushed several chip makers near bankruptcy.

Micron spokesman Dan Francisco said he could not comment specifically on the lawsuit because the company had not yet seen it. But he noted that the Boise, Idaho-based chip maker has been in talks to resolve the issue.

The multi-state complaint, to be filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charges the companies with fixing DRAM chip prices, artificially restraining supply and rigging bids for contracts.

Those actions caused computer makers such as Apple Computer Inc. , Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Inc. , Gateway Inc. , Hewlett-Packard Co. and International Business Machines Corp. to pay more for chips and then pass those costs on to consumers, said Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, another lead plaintiff in the case.

The largest four of the DRAM makers -- Samsung, Hynix, Micron and Infineon -- and their U.S. units control roughly 70 percent of the U.S. market, which in 2003 represented about $5 billion of the $17 billion in worldwide sales.

Lockyer said he was one of the leaders of the lawsuit because much of the alleged illegal conduct took place in California, home to Silicon Valley, where many of the chip makers have operations.

The multi-state lawsuit names many of the world's top-ranked memory chip makers including South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc. ; Taiwan's Mosel Vitelic and Nanya Technology Corp. ; Japan's Elpida Memory Inc., a joint venture of Hitachi Ltd. and NEC Corp. ; and NEC Electronics Corp.'s NEC Electronics America.

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