Netlist, which builds NVDIMMs and other memory modules, is suing Google, Samsung and Micron for patent-related violations and hoping to gain licensing fees in the millions – if not tens of millions or higher. And it has just won a waystation victory.
The financial prospects are so great that a Seeking Alpha pundit has called it the lawsuit of the century.
Netlist has a history of making memory-type products and then suing businesses it thinks ripped off its patent ideas or broke cross-licensing deals. For example, in 2017 it was pursuing Diablo Technology over wrongly using its patented NVDIMM tech – up to the point where Diablo collapsed and ceased trading.
Netlist also sued SK hynix for breaking its patents and received around $40 million from hynix in a cross-licensing deal in April last year.
The waystation victory was against Samsung, but involves Google as well. The Micron suit is a separate issue.
Back in 2009, Netlist sued Google in a Delaware court, and said that Google had wrongly used Netlist-patented IP – specifically US Patent No. 7,619,912 or the ‘912 patent, which refers to the use of rank multiplication in an LRDIMM (Long Range DIMM) memory module. Such DIMMs can have four ranks or blocks of memory, and the patent describes IP to present the LRDIMM logically as only having two ranks, thus getting over system memory controller limits on the maximum rank count.
Agni Research explained “Netlist asserts that the ‘912 patent enabled Google to build servers with high capacity and rapid memory that allowed said servers to store an entire Oracle database in memory which allowed lightning-fast search results. The ‘912 patent played a large part in Google’s dominance in search.”
Google contested the validity of the ‘912 patent and, after nine years of legal disputation, the US Court of Appeals upheld a prior decision that the patent was valid.
While this was going on, Netlist had set up a cross-licensing deal with Samsung over the use of its technology. Later it decided Samsung broke the contractual terms of the deal and sued in 2020 for breaking the deal terms, again for patent infringement and, then it suspended the cross-licensing deal.
Samsung defended its corner and counter-sued Netlist. Earlier this year, on February 18, Netlist won a victory against Sammy, as the court said the Korean giant had broken the cross-licensing deal terms and Netlist was entitled to suspend the contract. It then pursued Samsung for patent infringement in a Texas court.
Keep this in mind as we move on to May 5 this year, when Netlist’s lawyers gained a court decision in their favor in the Google case. This, they said, meant Google had used Netlist IP wrongly and was responsible for the patent infringement. Netlist could then legally chase Google for recompense.
That lawsuit was stayed (paused) for 90 days on July 13 with the judge deciding that, as Samsung had supplied the patent-infringing memory modules to Google, things could wait while the court in the Netlist-Samsung case decided if Samsung had violated Netlist’s patent.
Now, finally, we come to the latest judgement – a waystation judgement as we term it, because it is just a waystation on a multi-year legal odyssey. Samsung had filed an amended complaint against Netlist which Netlist had moved to dismiss. That motion was granted, in part, with the court saying Samsung could not file a second amended complaint; that door was closed.
Netlist says that “The partial dismissal means Samsung cannot pursue a separate action on the patents Netlist first asserted in Texas, and now cannot carry out its alleged obligation to protect Google from the ‘912 Patent in Delaware.”
So, the Netlist court victory against Samsung is a waystation on its road to suing Google and, it hopes, getting mucho licensing revenue, and maybe damages, from Google – as well as licensing revenue from Samsung.
The Micron case
This completely separate litigation involves Netlist asserting that Micron infringed its patented RDIMM and LRDIMM technology – including the ‘912 patent – by shipping product and not agreeing to a requested licensing agreement. This case started earlier this year and is currently open with no judge assigned.