SAN FRANCISCOThe U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to investigate a complaint by flash memory specialist Spansion Inc. against some flash memory chips made by South Korean giant Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.as well as downstream products incorporating those chips from some of the biggest names in electronics.
The ITC issued a statement saying it has voted to institute an investigation of certain flash memory chips and products containing them, including USB drives, digital cameras, phones, music players and computers.
In the ITC complaint, filed Nov. 17, Spansion (Sunnyvale, Calif.) named not only Samsung but also makers of downstream products, including Apple, Asus, Kingston, Lenovo, PNY, RIM, Sony, Sony-Ericsson, Transcend and others. These companies were named as respondents in the investigation by the ITC.
Spansion said Thursday (Dec. 18) that it had expected the ITC would investigate the complaint and that the company is committed to complying with the ITC in the hope of resolving an outstanding issues as quickly as possible.
The ITC said it has not made any decision on the merits of the case. The ITC's chief administrative law judge will assign the case to one of the ITC's six administrative law judges, who will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing. The ITC said the judge would then make an initial determination as to whether there is a violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 and that the initial determination would be subject to review by the full ITC.
Spansion's Nov. 17 ITC complaint can be read here.
Also Nov. 17, Spansion filed a complaint in the U.S. Court in Delaware seeking an injunction and treble damages for patent violations relating to Samsung flash memory. Spansion said it estimates the allegedly infringing parts have accounted for more than $30 billion in Samsung's global revenues since 2003.
In 2006, Samsung introduced a NAND flash chip made on 40-nm process technology that eliminated the traditional floating-gate structure. Instead, it used a proprietary oxide-nitride-oxide layer that the company calls charge trap flash.
At the time, Samsung claimed its charge trap flash technology will allow it to scale NAND down to 20-nm. Samsung referred to the total structure as Tanos, which comprised of tantalum (a metal), aluminum oxide (a high-k material), nitride, oxide and silicon layers.
Samsung's approach is regarded as similar to the path Spansion (previously part of AMD) took for MirrorBit NOR devices. MirrorBit technology also uses a trapped-charge, nitride-based architecture and eliminates the floating gate.
Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ITC investigation.