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Wednesday, November 01, 2006
U.S. Justice Dept. Probing Sony Unit

Sony said Tuesday the U.S. Department of Justice is probing its electronics unit as part of an industrywide investigation into sales of a particular type of memory chip.

The news could spell more trouble for a company already stung by sinking profits, a global battery recall and product delays.

The Japanese company received a subpoena from the Justice Department's antitrust division seeking information about Sony's static random access memory, or SRAM, business, company spokesman Atsuo Omagari said.

"Sony intends to cooperate fully with the DOJ in what appears to be an industrywide inquiry," the company said in a short statement.

Separately, EU antitrust regulators said Tuesday they had raided several chip makers in Germany in October as part of a price-fixing investigation regarding SRAM chips.

Earlier in October, U.S.-based chipmaker Cypress Semiconductor Corp. said its SRAM operations were also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

SRAM is a kind of computer memory that is faster and more reliable than the more extensively used DRAM, or dynamic random access memory. Unlike DRAM, SRAM can keep its data without power, but it is also more expensive.

SRAM is found in relatively small quantities in personal computers. It's also used in disk drives, communications equipment and networking gear.

In 2005, Sony sold 3.3 billion yen ($27.7 million) worth of SRAM. The product is made by outside manufacturers for Sony, which in turn sells the memory chips to other electronics makers, Omagari said. He declined to provide other details about the investigation.

A separate DOJ investigation into price-fixing among DRAM companies has so far resulted in more than a dozen charges against individuals and more than $731 million in fines against Samsung, Elpida Memory, Infineon and Hynix Semiconductor.

The new probe could add to a growing list of headaches for Sony, which has been battered by a worldwide recall of lithium-ion laptop batteries on fears they could overheat and burst into flames. The recall affected almost every major laptop maker in the world, including Dell, Apple and Lenovo.

Just last week, Sony Corp. said profit plunged 94 percent in the July-Sept. quarter.

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