LONDON — Ron Black was appointed CEO of Rambus in June 2012. More than a year later, there are signs that he intends to refocus the company on bringing technology, products, and services to market, rather than simply licensing patents.
Black's predecessor, Howard Hughes, had a policy of diversification through acquisition. He extended the company beyond its origins in semiconductor memory interface licensing. The company won some high-profile and high-value licensing deals, but it also found itself in court, and on occasion it had its business practices criticized. Black is driving his team hard to monetize that technology base, but not by being a patent troll, according to chief marketing officer Jerome Nadel told us.
We don't see ourselves as a nonpracticing entity. We have 250 engineers engaged in research and invention. There's not that much difference between what we do and what ARM does, between an architecture license and a patent license.
Chief marketing officer Jerome Nadel
Founded in 1990, the Sunnyvale, Calif., company has a long history of patent litigation. Under Black's tenure, the expectation is that Rambus will be more collaborative and less confrontational. It will also bring more products to market to profit from its research and patent base. LED light bulbs introduced in 2013 use microlens and light management technology originally acquired in 2009. In June, we reported that Rambus has settled its disputes with STMicroelectronics and SK Hynix. This seems to be evidence of a more conciliatory approach to using patents to protect technology.
Another example of how Rambus is changing is the introduction of its R+ series of memory interface architectures, including the R+ LPDDR3 Memory Architecture Solution. In the past, Rambus might have simply tried to assert that LPDDR3 relies on intellectual property covered by Rambus patents and sought licensing deals. Now it says it is providing an memory interface architecture that will provide licensees with superior power performance while remaining compatible with the standard.
Under Black, Rambus will be extending the company's business model by "bringing inventions to market from licensing, from collaborative development, and through software platforms, products, and hosted services," said Nadel.
The company has been organized into multiple business units, along with Rambus Labs, which is expected to add to Rambus market capitalization. The business groups include memory interfacing, Cryptography Research Inc., and lighting and display. Nadel said:
The labs group was traditionally looking rather far out, a couple of generations. Ron has shifted that to a bi-modal distribution -- now and down the road. The intent is not just to license technology but find the best way to bring that invention to market.
The promising technologies being worked at Rambus include binary pixel technology. This uses high-frequency binary sampling of light on an image sensor array combined with local image processing to improve low-light sensitivity for video and photos. Also in the works is a lensless image sensor that uses application-specific phase gratings and local data processing to extract relevant information in Internet-of-Things applications.
Nadel said Rambus could bring some things to market as a fabless chip company with products, or it could operate as IP licensor to enable multiple companies to bring the technology to market. Such decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.