November 2, 2011 / 11:00 PM / in 6 years

Long Rambus deliberations keep onlookers guessing

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When the bailiff knocked on the door of a California Superior Court jury room Tuesday, onlookers reached for their laptops.

But it was just another false alarm for those hoping to finally hear a verdict in the potentially billion dollar case between Rambus and its chipmaker rivals.

The San Francisco jury is in its seventh week of mulling over the evidence in Rambus Inc’s antitrust lawsuit against Micron Technology Inc and Hynix Semiconductor Inc.

Over more than three months of courtroom proceedings, Rambus attorneys argued that South Korea’s Hynix and Idaho-based Micron had colluded to fix prices of memory chips used in personal computers and to prevent Rambus’s technology from becoming widely used. Rambus claimed that it had lost billions of dollars in business.

Micron and Hynix countered that Rambus’ chip technology was plagued by technical problems and that the company was blaming competitors for its own failure.

Closing arguments ended September 21. Since then, investors and reporters have gathered in the corridor every day the jury meets, hoping to be among the first to know the verdict.

“I can’t ever remember deliberations going on that long,” said Greg Hurley, a jury analyst at the National Center for State Courts.

The Rambus jury has a way to go before setting a record. In 1994, a jury in Long Beach, California, deliberated for more than four months before finding for the plaintiff in a lawsuit that alleged discriminatory practices in the city building department.

The Rambus jury has adopted a relatively light schedule, meeting five hours a day and taking Fridays off most weeks.

Outside the Rambus courtroom, onlookers watch for a sign as the 12 men and women exit and enter the jury room for occasional breaks. Speculation about the length of the deliberations runs rampant: could the jury be locked in an irreconcilable argument? Could the sandwiches delivered to the jury room have prolonged the conversation?

Seated on a bench outside the courtroom, Hynix attorney Kenneth Nissly said of the length of deliberations, “Antitrust cases tend to be complicated, so they tend to be longer than other cases.”

The Rambus jury is not being asked to vote guilty or innocent, as in a criminal case. Rather, it has to puzzle through such technical intricacies as the latency of double data rate synchronous dynamic random access memory.

Jurors then must apply their understanding to legal concepts such as intentional interference with prospective economic relations, using 57 pages of instructions to fill out a verdict form with 31 questions.

Nine out of 12 jurors must agree on a question, Nissly said.

Judge James McBride may have set the stage for long deliberations during jury selection when he warned prospective jurors that the trial could last until Thanksgiving. Those whose lives would be harmed were excused. Those who took seats on the jury were braced for a marathon.

“They may have blocked off that time in their minds,” said Joe Rice, a California jury consultant.

On Tuesday, all eyes followed the bailiff as he passed from the jury room to the courtroom. But a moment later he returned carrying an easel pad, apparently to replenish the jury’s supply of brainstorming material.

The onlookers sank back into molded plastic seats.

The case in Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco is Rambus Inc. v. Micron Technology Inc. et al, 04-431105.

Editing by Dan Levine

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