Hitachi and Sega in U.S. patent probe

Kyodo

The U.S. International Trade Commission has voted to launch a probe of certain microchip devices and products containing them for alleged patent violation, targeting Japan’s Hitachi Ltd. and Sega Enterprises Ltd.

The independent federal agency said the investigation is based on a complaint filed on March 23 by Rambus Inc., a chip builder based in Mountain View, Calif.

The complaint alleges that certain products of the two Japanese companies, such as video-game consoles imported to the United States, infringe patents owned by Rambus, according to an announcement made by the ITC on Wednesday.

Rambus is seeking to halt the sale in the U.S. of synchronous dynamic random access memory (S-DRAM) devices, microprocessors and products containing them.

The ITC says it will within 45 days make a final determination in the probe, which targets Hitachi, Hitachi Semiconductor (America) Inc., Sega Enterprises and Sega of America Inc.

Sega has been selling its Dreamcast video console in the U.S. since last year. The product has proved popular, with the company selling around 1.5 million units in the four months through December alone.

NEC to build plants

NEC Corp., Japan’s leading maker of semiconductors, will start building new microchip factories in Japan and the United States during this fiscal year, as chip prices have started to pick up, company sources said Friday.

The Tokyo-based company will spend 300 billion yen to 400 billion yen on the factories.

In Japan, NEC will build a factory at its Hiroshima complex in the second half of the fiscal year, to make chips with dynamic random access memories, the sources said.

In the U.S., NEC will build a factory adjacent to the company’s existing chip factory in California, the sources said.

Construction of the plant was planned earlier but ran into delays.

The new U.S. plant is expected to go on-stream about one year later than the initially planned 2002 date.

NEC set up a semiconductor design and development company in April with Hitachi Ltd., another major Japanese chip maker, and the two firms are jointly working on designing a new generation of DRAMs.

The new factories could serve as production bases for the DRAMs, the sources said.