At the beginning of his closing argument way back on Sept. 20, Micron counsel William Price of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan told jurors that his client and its co-defendant, Hynix, had fixed prices on some computer memory chips. They did it 11 years ago, he said, when the tech bubble burst and memory chip prices were plummeting. “That activity was wrong, and there were victims,” Price said, according to this transcript. “But Rambus wasn’t a victim …. And, so, what Rambus has done here is they’ve taken something that we have told you from the beginning was true and said they were victims when they weren’t.”
Price told jurors about an instruction New York City used to give its bus drivers: if there’s a crash, lock the doors. “The reason wasn’t to keep people from leaving,” Price said. “The reason was to keep people from jumping on and saying they had hurt themselves, [that] they had hurt their back. Those people were called ‘ghost riders.’” Rambus, Price said, was a ghost rider. It claimed to be a victim of Hynix and Micron’s wrongdoing but wasn’t even on the bus. Rambus and its lawyers at Munger, Tolles & Olson asserted that Micron and Hynix conspired to wreck the market for its proprietary computer memory chip; Price and Hynix’s lead counsel, Kenneth Nissly of O’Melveny & Myers, had to show jurors that their clients’ admitted price-fixing involved the market for an alternative memory chip; the failure of Rambus’s chip, they argued, was due entirely to problems with the product.
“The challenge was to say, ‘Yes, there was price-fixing, but not this price-fixing,’” Price told me.
Quinn Emanuel and O’Melveny met the challenge, though they had to wait almost two months to find out they’d won the case. Twelve jurors began deliberations in late September. On Wednesday they finally returned a verdict, concluding that Rambus had not proved Micron and Hynix engaged in a price-fixing conspiracy to keep Rambus’s chip from becoming the industry standard. (Here’s the verdict sheet.) The jury also found that Micron and Hynix didn’t conspire to disrupt Rambus’s relationship with Intel. Those were the only questions jurors had to answer, since everything else in Rambus’s case depended on jurors finding a conspiracy to harm the company.
Price said the trial was truly a bet-the-company case for Micron. In its closing arguments, Rambus asked jurors to award about $4 billion in damages. With the trebling permitted under antitrust laws, the potential $12 billion exposure exceeds Micron’s market share. (Rambus had everything riding on the outcome as well; as Dan Levine reported Wednesday for Reuters, the company’s share price fell 61 percent after the verdict was announced.)